Coker is one of four children and comes from a family of athletes, so he has competed since an early age.
His mother, Michelle Spires, played volleyball at South Alabama. His older brother played college football. His younger sister has scholarship offers to play volleyball and run track, while his 15-year-old brother is 6-foot-7 with colleges already knocking on his door.
So competing for the starting job at Alabama shouldn’t be too much for Coker to handle.
“He comes from a large family of accomplished athletes,” Spires said by telephone. “He’s never buckled or folded under pressure. I think there will be a lot of pressure, but Jake has demonstrated a competitive spirit all of his life. You’d have to know him. He’s tough. If there’s a way to win, he’ll find it. He’ll never give up, he’ll never quit. He’s a fighter.”
For Spires, timing was everything. When Coker chose to transfer from Florida State after graduation in May, Alabama was one of many options, but having a familiar face on Tide staff helped make the decision a little easier. Tyler Siskey, Alabama’s associate director of player personnel, is a family friend and has been a mentor to Coker’s older brother since his days coaching at St. Paul’s in Mobile.
Spires said Coker’s choice to finish his collegiate career at Alabama wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, and that the family has been supportive every step of the way.
“Jake would like to play football at the next level,” Spires said. “If that’s what he wants to do, as a parent, I’m going to do everything I can to help him get to the next level.”
When AJ McCarron took over for Greg McElroy in 2011, the Tide was coming off a disappointing 2010 season. Expectations were high, as Alabama had won its first national championship in 17 years in 2009, but McCarron helped lead the Tide to back-to-back national titles, cementing his legacy while also creating a championship or bust mentality for the fans and spectators.
Coker, who has two years of eligibility remaining, will be one of several Tide quarterbacks vying to replace McCarron, who was a three-year starter. David Morris, the founder and head of Quarterback Country’s Mobile division, will be training Coker before he arrives at Alabama.
Coker still is recovering from November surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, but Morris said he should be at full speed in a few weeks and from there, it will be a “gradual process of trying to get him back into quarterback shape.”
As for the competition, Morris said Coker’s time at Florida State and last season’s high-profile battle with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has prepared him for the pressure cooker that is Alabama football. He said he believes Coker will handle the situation with “class and humility.”
“He’s used to the pressure, he’s use to the spotlight,” Morris said. “Florida State is obviously a program that’s under the microscope as well. So he’ll be used to all of the cameras and all of the hype and all of that. Ultimately, he’ll just go to work and control what he can and let everything else fall into place.
“He’s pretty good at not applying any more pressure than he needs to on himself.”
Morris also has worked with Coker’s predecessor as he is currently training McCarron for the NFL draft. He said Coker and McCarron are similar, although McCarron has more experience.
“They’re similar in that they’re both hard working and good athletes,” Morris said. “They both are big, physical guys. They both can make all of the throws.”
For those looking for an NFL quarterback comparison, Morris said Coker, at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, is similar to Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco, but “more athletic.”
“Both big, strong, physical guys with big arms and kind of quiet leader,” Morris said. “The way Jake leads is he’s going to be there early and stay late. That’s kind of the way Flacco is.”
Morris has worked with Coker since he was in high school. He said Coker’s biggest improvement during their time together has been his footwork.
“He had a big arm when we first got started, but his feet weren’t quite where they needed to be,” Morris said. “Athletically, he was super intriguing so you knew it wouldn’t take that long to get that down. But ultimately, we had to create some muscle memory in his feet so he’d understand each step of the drop and what his purpose was on each particular drop.
“What has happened over time is that his feet have gotten to where they compliment his arm and vice versa.”
Morris said Coker’s arm strength is off the charts and that they’ll focus on other aspects of his game when training for this next part of his journey.
“He does have one of the biggest arms I’ve seen,” Morris said. “The things you also have to factor in are accuracy and anticipation, and he’s good at those things, but that’s where experience will come in and be a better indicator. He can throw a football. The thing you have to worry about with big-arm guys are those other two factors. He’s a guy that is accurate, and I think this offseason we’ll be a position to work on all of those little things that matter probably even more than arm strength.”
Morris said Coker has an infectious personality, and said one of the things Coker has going for him is he knows nothing is guaranteed in this situation.
“He knows that he’s going to have to go in and work his tail off,” Morris said. “He’s excited about that. I’ve heard him say several times that all he wants to do is be in a position to compete for the job. From there, let the best man win. I think he’s excited about competing and he knows he’s up against some very good competition.
“Jake’s got a great level head and I think he’s going to be a guy that takes the competition seriously. Those guys are going to like him too, because he’s a great kid and a good guy.”