It seems as though every year we hear about the unlikely story of one player or another making it to the NFL. This year, Rodney Coe would have to qualify as one of the more unlikely ones. He played for three different college teams (Akron, Iowa State, Iowa Western), originally committed to another (Iowa) and went through one of the more bizarre position changes you're likely to see.
At Edwardsville High School in Illinois, Coe grew up playing running back. Coming out of high school, he stood 6'3" and weighed 230 lbs, but his mind hadn't always been focused on the gridiron. "I always grew up watching football because I liked it. It was a good way growing up to take out my anger. But basketball was definitely my first love," he says. With offers from Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn, Arkansas and Illinois, among others, he was undoubtedly sought-after coming out of high school. Everyone wanted a look at the RB/LB who played aggressively both ways, including rushing for over 2,000 yards in high school. After a decorated high school tenure, Coe committed to the Iowa Hawkeyes. That's when things changed.
Coe says now of that senior year in high school, "I wasn't the smartest, ACT scores came out, I didn't score high enough. That's why I had to go to junior college." Coe ultimately was forced to go to Iowa Western Community College, where he played two seasons for the Reivers. When he arrived, it was back to old habits in the offensive backfield, but things had changed: "Once I found I was going to junior college, I kinda got in a little downer stage and I just did my own thing, which was I picked up probably 25-30 pounds of weight going to junior college. So then, first year of junior college, I played running back at 260." Coe had 80 carries for 468 yards and 8 TDs that year.
The next season, reality shifted again for the young man. "Like they say, you gain your freshman 30, I gained my freshman 30, so then I got up to 290, and that's when they let me know, 'You definitely aren't playing running back any more!'" he joked with a laugh. The high school All-American Bowl participant at linebacker was developed at defensive line, capable of playing inside or outside.
That versatility and athletic talent drew some attention from Division I programs, and after Iowa Western completed a 12-0 season, topped with a Junior College National Championship victory, interest in Coe only increased. He ultimately stayed inside the state of Iowa, committing to the Iowa State Cyclones. He started four games and totaled 36 tackles for a 3-9 squad, before his attitude got him into trouble again.
In March of 2014 following the season, Coe was dismissed from the program after an undisclosed violation of team rules. To this day, he still regrets it. "Until Iowa State, I was one of those dudes coming from high school who was the best player on the team and I really didn't have any discipline. Going to junior college, it was kind of still the same way. I had a little discipline but not really, so I did my own thing. And then I was in that same mood at Iowa State. I was just one of those players who put themselves before the team, broke the rules, and one of those guys I guess you would say was a cancer to the team." For the third time in three years, Coe found himself without a football home.
That dismissal was a wake-up call to Coe. He said, "Once I got kicked off, that was when it really clicked. I was like, you better fix it now, this is my final chance at playing the game I love." He decided to get serious and transferred to Akron, who had expressed interest after his JUCO tenure, to play his final year of eligibility. There, he sat out a year per NCAA transfer rules before returning to the field for the Zips.
Akron would go 8-5 in 2015 with a bowl victory. Their defense suffocated running attacks, allowing just 89.8 yards per game (third in the nation), bolstered in part by Coe's 47 tackles, including 9.0 TFL and 2.5 sacks. His 56-yard fumble return in the waning moments of the first half of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl helped build an early lead against Utah State. On the season, he received Third-Team All-MAC honors and received a further invitation in the postseason to the College Gridiron Showcase All-Star Game.
There, Coe flashed that same versatility that he'd developed since the transition from RB to DL back at Iowa Western. "They don't use the word finesse with big guys, but I believe I have a little finesse," he laughed again. "I'm a big guy, I'm 315, but I don't move like I'm 315. I can play inside, outside, I can run with maybe the best of them." On tape, he plays like exactly what he is: a defensive lineman with a running back's mentality and talent. He's still raw in reading offensive flows, but his athletic ability is evident and he is very quick on the field.
Coe's draft stock is now undoubtedly on the rise, so seemingly unlikely for a guy who was a transfer afterthought to Akron just two years ago. He has visits set up with two playoff teams already and spoke extensively with twenty teams at the Showcase, which he now describes as "a very humbling experience," a departure from the flippant attitude with which he treated earlier programs.
You're likely to hear many success stories this offseason, but don't forget that of Rodney Coe.