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The Driver's Seat

Laurel Boys and Girls Club product aims for redemption -- and NFL [Commentary]

By David Driver

11:58 AM EDT, August 22, 2013

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Marcus Coker wears several wristbands on both arms. One of them reads, "Get Better Not Bitter."

That has been a rallying cry for Coker, who grew up in Beltsville near the Laurel line and is a product of the Laurel Boys and Girls Club youth football program.

After a stellar senior season at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, including a game in which he ran for 391 yards against Gilman, he attended the University of Iowa and became a key member of the team's running attack as a freshman.

A bruising runner at 6 feet, 230 pounds, he then ran for 1,384 yards as a sophomore for the Hawkeyes before he was suspended from the team prior to the Insight Bowl.

In January 2012, USA Today reported that Coker had asked for, and was given, a release from his scholarship by Iowa.

"Coker, a sophomore, leaves three weeks after being suspended from the Insight Bowl for 'disciplinary reasons' and a little over 10 weeks since being named in an incident report for assault," the article in USA Today reads.

According to USA Today, a Dec. 20 report says, "The issue involves University of Iowa policies, and has resulted in Coker being in violation of the UI Student-Athlete Code of Conduct."

When a USA Today reporter asked Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta in 2012 if Coker was ever involved in a legal investigation, Barta said, "I'm not going to comment on anything beyond what I've done so far."

The USA Today story said that Coker was the suspect of an assault investigation in an Iowa City Police Department incident report from Oct. 28, 2011.

Coker transferred to Stony Brook on Long Island, N.Y., and was eligible to play for the Seawolves in 2012 since Stony Brook is a Football Championship Subdivision program, a level below Iowa of the powerhouse Big 10 Conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Last season, Coker ran for 1,018 yards and nine touchdowns for Stony Brook.

According to Newsday, in 2012 police said, "Coker was investigated, but not charged, in an alleged sexual assault Oct. 28 (2011) in Iowa City."

Sgt. Denise Brotherton of the Iowa City Police Department told Newsday in 2012 that "the investigation is closed because the victim didn't want to press charges."

A two-year player for the Laurel Wildcats youth program in middle school, Coker was back in the area in late July during Media Day for the Colonial Athletic Association at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, the home of the Ravens. Stony Brook, which went 10-3 last season, will play in the CAA for the first time this season. One of their league foes is Towson, which plays at Stony Brook on Sept. 28.

I asked Coker what lessons he learned about his departure from Iowa. After a long pause he said: "Everything happens for a reason. That is probably the biggest thing I learned."

Does he feel he had his say in what happened at Iowa? "I really don't talk about it. It is in the past, and I leave it in the past," he said.

Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore told me his school spoke to the provost at Iowa and a police officer in Iowa about the Coker situation and felt confident about having him join their program. "We did our homework," Priore said.

"I transitioned really well. The team made me feel at home. As soon as I got there, they treated me like family," Coker said. "I wanted to be close to home. My mom [who now lives in Silver Spring] can come and see me play, and I can come home for the weekend."

"I expect Marcus to carry the ball 25 to 30 times a game, much like he did for Iowa in 2011," Priore says in the team's media guide.

Stony Brook tied for first in the Big South Conference last year with a mark of 5-1. But the CAA is a much tougher league, as several CAA teams have played for an FCS title in the past decade.

"My personal goals are the same as the team goals. That is to go out there and win," said Coker, a rising senior.

But Coker may be playing football long after his teammates. He is projected as a possible NFL draft pick in 2014.

"My dream has always been to play in the NFL. Nothing has ever changed," he said. "Go out there and work hard [and] don't hold a grudge about" what happened in the past.

David Driver is a former Laurel Leader sports editor.