- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Marcus Coker envisioned following in Shonn Greene's footsteps when he signed on to play running back at Iowa. Another type of star system also led him to the Hawkeyes.
Since his mother bought him a telescope at age 7, Coker has been fascinated by the stars in the sky. One of the reasons he chose Iowa out of DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland, he said, was the school's department of physics and astronomy. Coker is pursuing a double major in both fields and says his dream is to some day work for NASA.
A Hawkeye in space?
"Nah," he says. "I want to stay on the ground."
That looks like a pretty good plan for Iowa this season as well, thanks to the promising sophomore tailback. Coker might have been eclipsed at the beginning of last season, but by the end he looked like a supernova.
His jaw-dropping Insight Bowl performance has fans salivating at his future potential. Stepping in for the suspended Adam Robinson, Coker shattered school bowl records with 219 rushing yards on 33 attempts in the 27-24 win over Missouri.
Coker didn't even figure to crack the depth chart initially as a freshman, with fellow backs Robinson, Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher all ahead of him. Coker was further set back by a broken collarbone in preseason camp.
"There was no way to get physical reps after that, so I just tried to get mental reps and more than anything learn the offense," he said. "I really didn't think I would play much. That was my goal, but I didn't have any expectations."
But then Hampton and Wegher transferred, and Robinson was sidelined by both academic and legal issues. Coker was playing a big role by the end of the season, rushing for 129 yards against Indiana and scoring his first touchdown versus Ohio State. With Robinson gone and little experience behind him, Coker is the unquestioned leader in the backfield now. He's trying to keep the same attitude he had last summer.
"I look at myself as if I'm last on the depth chart, and I want to be first," he said. "[The bowl] game just brings a lot of expectations, so I'm trying to push myself hard and live up to all those expectations."
Expectations may be unreasonably high after a 219-yard bowl performance, but Coker says, "All I know is I'm going to go out and try to rush for more than that every game. If it happens, it happens."
He's not unfamiliar with huge games. In high school, he gained national attention by rushing for a school record 392 yards and five touchdowns to lead DeMatha to a victory over rival Gilman.
Coker is a load at 6-foot, 230 pounds. He said he's been working this offseason on improving his quickness and agility, but he knows the most important thing is to keep his pads low.
"When you have that much weight behind you, it's kind of hard not to run over some corners and safeties," he said.
There's a softer side to him too, though. Coker was recognized in high school for performing more than 1,000 community-service hours, donating his time to working with the mentally challenged and volunteering at animal shelters.
"I get that from my mom," he said. "She has worked with mentally challenged people since I was born. She's always giving to other people, and I want to give back."
That's the kind of attitude that could make Marcus Coker a true star.