Virginia Tech senior Danny Coale has been a standout receiver, punter and punt returner for the ACC’s Coastal Division champs this year.
No biggie. He can handle all of that.
It was his “Finance Concepts and Skills” class that really threw him for a loop this past summer. Assistant professor Derek Klock, Coale said, was an ex-military man who was “very intimidating.”
“I went in the class and introduced myself after the first class,” Coale said. “I told him I was involved in football. He said, 'What do you run the 40 in?' I said, 'Oh, you know, 4.4, in that area.' He said, 'Well, for this class, you’re going to have to run faster.' At that moment I knew I was in for something unique. I’m sure he laughed about that for a while, but I was a deer in headlights.
“I was on pins and needles every day trying to follow the finance world and make sure I had my current events right,” Coale said. “I would go to the library every night to study and make sure I didn’t fall behind. I’ve never spent so much time in the library and never been challenged like that. It ended up being really, really rewarding.”
Meet Danny Coale -- the poster boy for the NCAA’s “student-athlete.” He’s a record-setting receiver. He’s this year’s winner of the Jim Tatum Scholar Athlete Award. And he’s a big reason this year’s senior class has a chance to go out as the winningest bunch in school history if it can beat Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Oh, and he’s also a recent graduate of Virginia Tech, thanks in part to a hard-earned B-plus in Klock’s class.
“It’s tough to even describe Danny. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met in my life,” said quarterback Logan Thomas. “He can do it all. He’s a punter, he’s a receiver, and the classroom is just another dimension of who he is and what he can do. It’s very nice to have a guy like that on our team. It makes not only the team better, but the people on the team better.”
Yet Coale has somehow been one of the most underrated players in the ACC throughout his career. He set the school freshman reception record with 36 catches, he has at least two catches in 44 of 54 career games, and at least one catch in 50 of 54 games. He had his longest and most important catch in the final minutes of the 2009 Nebraska game, when he broke free down the sideline for an 81-yard gain to set up the game-winning touchdown pass with 21 seconds left. Regardless of what Virginia Tech's offense does against Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, Coale has already left his mark on the program and those within it.
“He’s just neat,” said coach Frank Beamer. “He really is neat. He’s really -- you look at him and he’s a really good football player. He’s smart, he understands the game, and that shows out there. I think he’s sneaky fast. He gets away from you before you realize he’s there. He’s just the total package. You feel so proud he represents Virginia Tech, and that he’s been with you here in your program for four years and what a delight he’s been. What a great representative he’s been, and how many big plays he’s been involved in here at Virginia Tech. He’s special, real special.”
Coale has a career average of 16.3 yards per catch. He enters the Sugar Bowl with 157 career receptions for 2,541 yards and seven touchdowns. His 157 receptions and his 2,541 yards are both the second-best in school history, trailing Jarrett Boykin in both. What has separated him from many, though, has been his ability to juggle multi-tasking on the field while maintaining a high regard for his academics.
“I kind of have the same approach to everything,” Coale said. “I try to work hard at everything. I know people in the football world are probably tired of hearing that, but I have classes that are challenging, and that’s something I look forward to, meeting that challenge and working hard to get better at that. It’s the same thing on the field. It takes a little bit of a balance, but as long as you do what you’re told you find success.”
This past spring, Coale was a surprise at the top of the depth chart at punter. He punted in high school, but hadn’t since, until doing it twice at Marshall and then at Virginia, where he averaged 47.5 yards on four punts. He hit a 61- and a 60-yarder in the ACC championship game, prompting many to wonder where that aspect of the Hokies’ special teams had been all season.
“It was really exciting,” Coale said. “It was like high school all over again. It was something I said I always wanted to do. To be able to do it in a championship game and do not horrible at it was cool. It was refreshing and fun. That’s what it’s all about, having fun and playing the position you love, and that’s kind of how it was."
Despite his degree in finance and second undergraduate degree in marketing management, Coale will first try to live out his dream of playing in the NFL.
“I’ll definitely try the next level, give that a shot. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was little,” he said. “What football player wouldn’t tell you that? But it’s something I’ve waited 23 years for the opportunity. I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to be in the position to do that now. I might give punting a shot, see how that works out. I don’t really know.”
If it’s like anything else Coale has tried, odds are he’ll find a way to make it work -- or work until he finds a way.