Whether he is creating holes as a fullback or making tackles in the Fayetteville Bulldogs’ linebacker rotation, senior Tommy Coker has one ambition on the gridiron, helping his team win.
That attitude allowed him to make a swift transition in the preseason from being a full-time fullback to hunting heads as a linebacker on the second level of the Bulldogs’ defense.
“It doesn’t really matter about the change as long as I can help my team out,” said Coker, who has plans to study engineering at the University of Arkansas. “I really just want to be a selfless player. It’s not really about me. It’s about doing what is best for the team.”
Coker’s move has helped the Bulldogs’ maturing defense and it shored up a unit that suffered heavily from graduation last spring. The linebacker spot took more of a hit last Friday in the Bulldogs’ 27-22 victory over Muskogee when outside linebacker Carson Baker injured his knee. Patton said Baker, a senior, would miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
at. Van Buren (1-2)
Date: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Van Buren
TV: Cox 217, Uverse 99
“This year we had a vacancy, kind of a weak spot at linebacker,” Fayetteville head coach Daryl Patton said. “We needed some help there. Tommy never complained one bit. He’s gone over there and done a good job. He is one of those kids we are very proud of and he’s just a warrior. Moving Tommy to linebacker, there was never any fear. He still plays some fullback for us in some sets, but he one of the guys that’s just a pleasure to coach.”
Coker’s devotion to the team and football I.Q. are why Patton felt the move from offense to defense would be a successful one for Coker.
“If you got a guy who doesn’t learn as fast or if attitude is an issue, you try to get him to one spot and leave him there and let him develop,” Patton said. “Tommy is the type of young man who understands the team concept. If we came in tomorrow and asked him to move to left guard, he would go play the position to the best of his ability and have a great attitude doing it.”
Coker has been around football most of his life. His dad Dr. Tom Coker is a noted Fayetteville orthopaedic surgeon, who has worked with the University of Arkansas’ football program. When his father worked games and traveled with the team, Coker was often by his side.
“I got to grow up near a football team and was lucky enough to have special privileges that other kids didn’t get to have, being around a college D-I team,” Coker said. “It was fun to go to the games with him and travel with the team and be that close to it.”
They physical nature of the game was Coker’s initial draw into the sport. So as long as he’s able to be physical, Coker doesn’t mind if it’s on offense or defense.
“I love that part of football,” Coker said of hitting. “I think that’s the part that I’m best at. I’m not great a changing directions. Tackling, blocking, being physical is what I do best.”
Patton loves the leadership Coker, who was voted a team captain, brings to the field. It was something that stood out in Fayetteville’s run for a state title during Coker’s junior season even though the Bulldogs had a strong core of senior leaders.
“Last year we plugged him in at fullback position, and man, he was just tough as nails,” Patton said. “He did a great job blocking, giving Austin [Allen] time to throw and Brice [Gahagans] room to run. He’s one of the best fullbacks we’ve had since I’ve been here. Now, he’s taking that toughness to the defensive side of the ball.”
Coker said winning the state title would always be a cherished memory for him.
“Not a lot of people get to experience being a part of a state championship team,” Coker said. “It was definitely stressful, but it was a whole lot of fun. We take a lot of pride in what we accomplished. Being able to experience it was awesome, just getting to see what it takes to be a state championship team.”
Coker said that experience has helped when the Bulldogs have had to bear down to secure victories in their first three games.
“It really helps being able to apply that to this team, too,” Coker said. “We expect to be the best and achieve the most we can. I think that helps us with adversity. We are definitely going to be in the running for another state title again this season.”
Patton said Coker’s never-say-die attitude not only helps him but also has a positive effect on his teammates.
“His physical and his mental toughness are an asset to the team,” Patton said. “Adversity rolls right off him. He knows there are 120 to 140 plays in a game. He doesn’t let one bad one slow him down. He’s out there to make the most of every opportunity he gets.”