Iowa's Kinnick Stadium holds 70,585 fans, but during the past two seasons, Marcus Coker's biggest fan attended only three games. Now that one of the top running backs in the nation has transferred to Stony Brook, Coker's mother, Tammy Money, is thrilled that she can share every Saturday, including road games, in person with her "best friend."
The Seawolves don't always fill 8,000-seat LaValle Stadium, but Coker's addition should help attendance, if only because it's a mere 271-mile drive from his home in Beltsville, Md. "We're really excited for Saturday," Money said of Stony Brook's 6 p.m. opener against Central Connecticut State. "I'm not sure if Stony Brook realizes what they've got coming because half the state of Maryland is coming.
"I know at least 25, 30 people who have confirmed that they'll be there -- family, long-time friends and coaches who coached Marcus in youth ball and high school. Marcus has a lot of people that back him."
When Coker transferred in January from Iowa, where he finished second in Big Ten rushing with 1,384 yards and had 15 touchdowns last season, he had a wide range of options, including Big 12 favorite Oklahoma. He chose Stony Brook for its combination of quality academics and athletics and its proximity to home.
Coker, who has two years of eligibility left, won't have to sit out a year because he's moving from an FBS school to an FCS school. He'll team with running back Miguel Maysonet, the Big South preseason offensive player of the year, as the Seawolves contend for the FCS national title.
Coker now makes frequent visits home. He surprised his mother by showing up just before midnight last Friday for her birthday the next day.
"It's the world to me," Coker said. "That was the first time I've been home for her birthday in it seemed like forever. That was probably the ultimate birthday gift for her. She's my best friend, so being able to see her whenever I want is really nice."
Coker previously acknowledged that his transfer was related, in part, to Iowa's decision to suspend him on Dec. 20 for the school's appearance in the Insight Bowl because of a violation of the student-athlete code of conduct. It later was reported by the Iowa City Press-Citizen that Coker was investigated for an allegation of sexual assault against him Oct. 28. Police said the case was closed because the alleged victim declined to press charges.
But Money said her son considered transferring earlier to be closer to home. Coker's parents divorced when he was 4 years old, and he admired his mother's dedicated work as a cardiovascular technician and a health caregiver. Money said Coker's family includes three "sisters": Mary, 65, Mona, 56, and Marilyn, 53, all of whom are mentally disabled.
"If anyone is a football fan, it's them," Money said. "We don't refer to them as [unrelated] individuals that live with us. They are our family, and they actually refer to Marcus as their little brother. When it came to Family Game in Iowa, Marcus called and asked every one of us to come, and we drove out [903 miles]."
Coker's deep involvement in community service activities stems from that personal experience. "They're my sisters," he said. "It just taught me always to be humble and to be grateful for what I have. They couldn't choose the way they were born. I'm simply blessed."
Money said her son "has always been a giver." At Iowa, Coker helped a teammate rebuild a church, and he befriended a 3-year-old boy he met who was awaiting a heart transplant.
"Marcus bought this young man Christmas gifts," Money said. "There's a picture of Marcus when he made one of his first touchdowns, and he puts his hands up in the shape of a heart for that young baby. People have no idea what a caring young man Marcus is."
While the move from the Big Ten to Stony Brook might be viewed as a step down by some, Coker and his mother see it as a step forward. "We are absolutely grateful for Stony Brook," Money said. "He just seems so happy there."
Anticipating his Stony Brook debut, Coker said, "I still remember that first day I stepped out at Kinnick, and I'm going to remember this day for the rest of my life, too. It will be a special moment."