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Coker doesn’t regret transferring to UA, is gunning for 2015 starting job: ‘Everything happens for a reason’

Jake Coker speaks at Sugar Bowl Media Day. (Photo by Jonathan Biles)
Jake Coker speaks at Sugar Bowl Media Day. (Photo by Jonathan Biles)

NEW ORLEANS, La. — The Alabama quarterback battle was all but settled.

Florida State backup quarterback Jacob — now Jake — Coker was transferring to Alabama and poised to replace outgoing Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, a player who he had succeeded in high school as well. Coker had the hair of an Alabama quarterback, with the mobility and arm strength of a future superstar passer.

But after Coker arrived in Tuscaloosa and was met with what can only be described now as unfairly high expectations, he eventually lost the starting position to Blake Sims.

“The expectations around what was going to happen with Jake probably were not realistic,” Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. “It was probably unrealistic that he would win the job and play great right away, because he’s still learning.”

Coker arrived in May and started poring over the playbook, trying to learn as much as he could as quickly as possible. But no amount of cramming could make up for his lack of experience. It wasn’t so much that Sims had significantly more playing time during his four-year career at Alabama, but he was the veteran, he knew the players and the team.

Kiffin compared the process they went through to select a starting QB to an NFL training camp, including using the first few games as de facto preseason games and allowing both passers to play.

“We didn’t have Jake right away,” Kiffin said. “It was almost like being in the NFL, having some veterans and then having a draft pick that isn’t there yet.”

After the decision was made, Coker proved himself to be every bit the “team guy” that Sims has earned a reputation for being.

“You can’t lose focus because you never know when you get called in there,” Coker said. “I just try to make sure I’m on the same page as the coaches and go in like I was playing. You’d hate be the most hated guy in Alabama if you go in there and not know what you’re doing.”

Kiffin is known for developing quarterbacks, but one of his biggest challenges this season could have been managing the mindset of a backup quarterback who narrowly lost the starting position. That hasn’t been necessary, Kiffin says. Coker handled it himself.

“It has a lot to do with who the guy is. A lot of guys don’t handle that very well, they kind of give up and don’t really prepare,” Kiffin said. “The only way you’re going to do well in that situation is prepare like you’re the starter every day, and Jake has done that. We have all the confidence in the world that we can put him in and not change our system, run everything we’re doing and be very successful. So that’s a credit to Jake.”

While Coker has managed this season well, he has his sights set on next Spring when the quarterback battle will heat up again, this time between him, backups Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell, and heralded incoming recruit Blake Barnett.

Coker doesn’t regret transferring to Alabama and believes he was given every opportunity to win the job. He said everything happens for a reason and already has his goals set going into next season.

“Practice hard, do everything I can, and hopefully the team will win a lot of games next year,” Coker said.

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