When Stony Brook opens spring football practice Friday, all eyes will be on running back Marcus Coker, a Big Ten star who transferred to the Seawolves on Jan. 30 after a controversy at Iowa.
After being suspended for Iowa's appearance in the Insight Bowl for a violation of the university's student-athlete code of conduct Dec. 20, Coker asked to be released from his scholarship Jan. 10. It was reported that same day by the Iowa City Press-Citizen that he had been the subject of an Iowa City police department investigation into an allegation of sexual assault against him on Oct. 28. Coker was investigated but not charged. Police said the case was closed because the alleged victim declined to press charges.
In his first interview since transferring, Coker said to Newsday that he told his side of the story to University of Iowa officials during their investigation, and he tersely acknowledged that the suspension was a factor in his decision to leave.
Asked for his account of the allegation against him, Coker said, "I don't think it matters. It's in the past, and I've moved on."
Coker explained why he made the move to Stony Brook, where he doesn't have to sit out a season because he's moving down from FBS to FCS football. "It was just time for a change," he said. "It was time for a fresh start, being able to get closer to home."
Home for Coker is in Beltsville, Md., where the 6-foot, 230-pound running back starred at DeMatha Catholic high school in nearby Hyattsville, Md.
"I've gone home the past two weekends, and my mom's been loving it," Coker said. "She'll actually be able to come and see my games. In high school and Boys and Girls Club, she came to every game and every practice. So it was really tough on her [to attend only two Iowa games]."
Although he has made the move to Long Island, Coker understands he hasn't distanced himself from the controversy over how he left Iowa. Asked how it feels to do a Google search of his name and see stories about his suspension, he grimaced.
"It's one of those things that makes me sick when I thought about it at first," Coker said. "You just have to keep on doing what you're doing. You can't worry about what other people have to say."
Coker expressed his feelings most strongly in a farewell post on his Facebook page Jan. 10: "I really wish I could tell u guys wats goin on cuz its really ridiculous to b punished for somethin I didnt do." The post has since been taken down.
As part of the recruiting process, Stony Brook investigated Coker's background. Seawolves coach Chuck Priore said it involved the dean of students, university police department, university lawyers, faculty representative, athletic director and himself all speaking to their Iowa counterparts.
"You don't make these decisions based on the person," Priore said this week. "You make these decisions based on the information. We tried to gather both sides of it . . . We couldn't find a person who would say a bad thing."
But uncomfortable questions may persist for Coker, who was second in Big Ten rushing with 1,384 yards plus 15 touchdowns last season, especially if he attracts more attention to Stony Brook football. "It comes with the territory," Coker said. "The type of person I am, I get knocked down and I get right back up and move on."
Coker no longer will be serenaded by 70,000 Iowa fans at Kinnick Stadium. LaValle Stadium holds only 8,000, but the people who matter most will be there.
"My whole family will be up here every weekend coming to the games," Coker said. "I'll have my mom, my brother and his wife, and distant cousins will come up here, probably 20 plus. It will be nice.''