Hardest part still ahead for Coker

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- He said and did all the right things. Losing a competition is never easy, but Jacob Coker handled it with a certain hard-working grace: put your nose to the grindstone, turn the page, bottle up the disappointment and use it as fuel later.

He went to Florida State to become the starting quarterback, and after three years, he saw the opportunity pass him by.

It was a close race last season, coaches and teammates insist, but as the rest of college football found out, holding Jameis Winston down is next to impossible. His season will go down in history; Coker's will be easily forgotten. He was just the guy slapping the Heisman Trophy winner's hand as he came off the field.

But an amazing thing happened during the latter part of Florida State's run toward the national championship. Coker, the forgotten loser of a long-forgotten quarterback competition, began grabbing the country's attention. A redshirt sophomore on the verge of graduating, he became one of the most sought-after transfers in college football.

The dots were quickly connected. Coker was from South Alabama, grew up rooting for Alabama and backed up Alabama starting quarterback AJ McCarron in high school. It wasn't long before he visited Alabama's campus, met with Nick Saban and gave his verbal commitment to the Crimson Tide.

Alabama signed the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country on Wednesday, hauling in one-third of the available five-star prospects and a school-record 19 ESPN 300 recruits. But no member of the 27-man signing class is more important than Coker, who has the hopes of an entire fan base pinned on him winning the quarterback competition in the fall and returning the program back to the national championship game next winter. All that on the shoulders of a former three-star recruit who hasn't started a college game or thrown a meaningful pass since he was a senior in high school.

"It's been tough not playing for the last three years," Coker said earlier this month. "It's been really tough for me because I'm not used to that, and it's been eating at me."

Does he have a chip on the shoulder? Something to prove?

"I guess you could say that," he said. "I can't wait to start working again and get into the playbook and doing all the things I need to do to get out there. I'm just ready to go."

Coker was reticent to leave Florida State at first. When the news broke that he had committed to Alabama, he was worried how his teammates in Tallahassee would react. Winston was one of the first to send him a congratulatory text message. Coker returned to campus and the rest of the team embraced him. They knew the deal, he said. They understood that this is what he had to do -- "an obvious decision," as he put it.

He is still a student at Florida State. For the next few months, it's all about finishing his degree and getting ready for what's ahead at Alabama.

"School is the first thing because if I don't get that done I won't be able to play," he said. "But when I'm not doing that, I'm working out, throwing the football, running. I'm trying to get in better shape -- stronger, faster than I've ever been for when fall comes around."

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