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Marcus Coker ready to run for Stony Brook after injury, motorcycle accident

Stony Brook running back Marcus Coker (34) cuts

Stony Brook running back Marcus Coker (34) cuts back at the line of scrimmage during an intersquad scrimmage on April 28, 2013. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Recalling the moment Marcus Coker came face-to-face with his mortality, the Stony Brook running back's memory blurs. It was April 12, a Saturday evening just before 8 p.m., when a Ford van making a U-turn intersected the path of Coker's motorcycle.

Coker glimpsed the van "in the blink of a second" and swerved, but the collision sent him flying. "Everything just flashes," Coker said. "I blacked out as soon as I got hit. I woke up on the side of the road. I was a little confused, still trying to figure out everything that was going on.

"There was a guy on the side of the road telling me to lie down and that help was on the way."

As the unknown Good Samaritan knelt by his side at the scene of the accident no more than two miles from the Stony Brook campus, the pain told Coker he still was alive.

"There was a lot of pain," Coker said. "I had road rash all the way down the left side of my body. I guess there was a certain amount of shock, but the pain was definitely there."

The Setauket Fire Department arrived and transported Coker the short distance to Stony Brook University Hospital. When Seawolves football coach Chuck Priore received a phone call alerting him to the bare detail that his star running back had been in a crash, he said, "You hear 'motorcycle accident,' and there was no confirmation [of his condition]. I was scared."

At the hospital, he learned Coker had sustained road rash to the left side of his body, a broken left fibula and bruises, but Priore was relieved there was no facial damage or more serious injury. According to a Suffolk County Police spokeswoman, no alcohol was involved; Coker was wearing a helmet, and no citations were issued.

As he lay in the hospital, it would have been natural for Coker to wonder if his football career was over, but he said, "Something in my mind told me it wasn't going to be."

The accident is one of a series of "bumps in the road" Coker has encountered since he transferred from Iowa and enjoyed an outstanding 2012 season, rushing for 1,018 yards and nine touchdowns while teaming with former running back Miguel Maysonet to lead the Seawolves to the second round of the FCS playoffs.

In June of 2013, Coker suffered an abdominal injury that lingered through the first two games before he decided to redshirt. Coker ultimately underwent surgery in February when surgeons reattached the muscle to his pelvis. He was three days away from his first contact of spring practice when his motorcycle accident occurred.

To top it off, a violation of team rules in February prompted Priore to suspend Coker for the season opener against Bryant University Thursday night at LaValle Stadium. Coker will make his return in the toughest spot possible against FBS Connecticut on Sept. 6 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

Reviewing the past 15 months, Coker said, "It's been tough physically, but even more so, it's been tough mentally. It's adversity for you."

It is a measure of Coker's toughness that he tried to gut out the ab injury in Stony Brook's 26-23 loss in five overtimes last fall at FBS Buffalo, carrying 34 times for 115 yards. But he realized he couldn't make it through the season.

"I reinjured it in rehab, so I had surgery in February," Coker said. "I was coming back from that and working out and feeling good . . ."

Then, the accident occurred. Coker spent time on crutches and in a walking boot and also underwent a skin graft on his left arm. His broken fibula has healed, but he still has pain in some joints and from the road rash scars.

"Pain I can deal with, but being out of shape, I'm playing catch-up," Coker said. "You just have to work that much harder, run more and do extra stuff."

Priore hasn't seen any problems related to Coker's left ankle injury or as a result of his abdominal surgery, just the effects of rust and fatigue during August training camp. But Coker participated fully and might even benefit from the suspension in terms of the extra time it gives him to prepare for UConn.

Asked if he's worried about his body holding up once he returns, Coker said, "Not at all. In my head, it's never a question. I just know I'll be ready."

Coker will share the rushing load with Massachusetts transfer Stacey Bedell, Tyler Fredericks and James Kenner in SBU's second Colonial Athletic Association season. Priore is confident Coker can regain the form he showed in the Seawolves' 2012 playoff run when he averaged 5.3 yards per carry in a win over Villanova and a loss at Montana State.

"This is not a health issue," Priore said. "It's just getting used to playing football again. If you look at the Villanova and Montana State games, he got yards after contact that a lot of backs at this level don't get.

"If you watch those [video] clips, you'd be like, 'Wow!' It doesn't equal wins and losses because there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, but we need that 'wow' factor back."

When he finally does step on the field for a real game, no one will be more grateful than Coker to have survived his brush with death last spring.

"Looking back, it all could have been over," Coker said. "You've got to enjoy what you've got as long as you can."

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