Marcus Coker's Stony Brook career will end in two more games with one of his stoic shrugs rather than with the bang Seawolves fans expected two years ago when the second-leading rusher in the Big Ten transferred from Iowa.
That first season in 2012 was heady stuff as the powerful running back pounded out 1,018 yards and nine touchdowns and combined with Miguel Maysonet to carry SBU to the second round of the FCS playoffs.
After Maysonet graduated, the ball was in Coker's hands last season when Stony Brook moved from the Big South to the much tougher Colonial Athletic Association, but an abdominal injury ended his season after two games, making it a redshirt year. After offseason surgery, he came back stronger than ever, but he was lucky to survive a motorcycle accident in April that left him with a fractured left leg and terrible abrasions that took more than two months to heal.
Until two weeks ago at New Hampshire, when he broke out for 89 yards rushing on 11 carries, Coker seemed a shell of his former self. Then he did it again Saturday, shedding James Madison tacklers and breaking into the open field for runs of 45, 29, 17 and 11 yards on his way to his SBU career high of 145 yards on 18 carries, including a 5-yard TD run.
Coker provided the biggest feel-good moments of an otherwise gut-wrenching 27-24 loss to James Madison at LaValle Stadium. Whatever satisfaction he might have taken from his performance was muted by the loss and by his own sense of privacy and reluctance to share his feelings, good or bad, beyond his self-imposed limits.
Asked for some insight into his struggle to regain the form that made him so good at Iowa and that first season at SBU, Coker said, "I really hadn't thought about it."
In a world in which some athletes celebrate their most mundane achievements, Coker goes the other way -- gives his all on the field but avoids the spotlight off it whenever possible.
Few could begin to understand all he has endured physically the past two seasons, some of it self-inflicted but most of it just plain unlucky.
But coach Chuck Priore, who was among the first to rush to Coker's bedside last April at Stony Brook Hospital, knows how hard he has worked, not just on the field and in physical rehabilitation but in the classroom during his three school years at SBU.
"Marcus has had a microscope on him since he's gotten here, and he's done terrific in school," Priore said. "He's had some injuries that have taken away from him being the player he was, but he's been a good teammate, he supports everybody and he kept plugging along.
"He's a little bit fibbing to you when he says . He wasn't healthy and he was out of sync a little bit. Now he feels a little bit better. You also gain a little confidence when you have a couple of big runs. I'm just proud of him that he was able to enjoy some personal success, but he would trade any of it for a win. I know that."
Coker's teammates know it, too. He has been self-effacing, hard-working and humble from the day he arrived on campus. These past two seasons haven't been what he wanted, but you can be sure it wasn't for lack of effort.
That's what gives meaning to the glimpse Coker's past two games have provided of the player he really is and what might have been if only he had remained healthy.