Jan. 26, 2010
DeKALB, Ill. - Jake Coffman, the Marine Corps veteran who returned to college football as a 22-year old freshman in 2006 and developed into Northern Illinois University's top defender in 2009, will close out his football career when he is honored as the 2009 Male Athlete of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus at the organization's annual awards banquet on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.
Following the Huskies' appearance in the 2010 International Bowl, Coffman informed Northern Illinois coaches that the 2009 season was his last. The German Valley, Ill. native and Forreston High School product led NIU in quarterback sacks and tackles for loss in his redshirt junior season while playing both defensive end and defensive tackle. Coffman's Huskie teammates selected him as the 2009 Defensive MVP and he was a second team All Mid-American Conference choice.
His outstanding play in 2009 made Coffman an exemplary choice for the Touchdown Club of Columbus, which presents its Athlete of the Year Award to "the outstanding amateur athlete who exemplifies dedication and leadership both on and off the field of play." A year ago, Florida State's Myron Rolle, a Rhodes Scholar, was the recipient of this award.
"I heard Jake's story and it made him an easy choice to be our Male Athlete of the Year," said Touchdown Club President Curt Boster. "We deal a lot with the five-star guys and the blue-chippers, and we hear about their trials and tribulations, the things they deal with. To even compare anything in college football to Jake's story... The fact that he had a great season on the field this year put a capper on the story. It's a great story, made greater by what he did on the field and what he meant to the Northern Illinois team. That, and the passion he has for the game, is what made him our choice for this award."
For his part, the always humble Coffman was incredulous when he heard about the Athlete of the Year honor.
"It's tremendously flattering to be chosen for this honor," Coffman said. "I really didn't believe it when I got the news. It's an honor to end my career going to this event in Columbus to receive this award. I can't really take the credit for it. I just made the plays that the other guys helped me make, and did what I was coached to do. I was surrounded by great players and great coaches, and it was a recipe for success. It's a tremendous honor for me and the program."
Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill said he could not imagine a more deserving candidate for the award than Coffman.
"It's a tremendous, tremendous honor for Jake and a very prestigious award," Kill said. "It could not happen to a more deserving young man and it's rewarding to see someone who is such a great individual receive an award like this after the season he has had and the contributions he has made to our program. Those contributions pale in comparison to what he has given and done for our country. He is a great representative of his family, the Huskie football program and Northern Illinois University."
Coffman completed two tours in the Middle East during his time in the Marines, and rose to the rank of corporal before walking on to the Huskie team in 2006 at the age of 22. Redshirted in 2006 while acclimating to college life and college football, Coffman played four games for the Huskies in 2007 before injuring his foot and undergoing surgery, forcing him to sit out the rest of the season. He returned to action in 2008 under then-new head coach Jerry Kill and excelled in 11 games, rising to a second team spot at defensive end behind NFL first round draft choice Larry English. Coffman ranked second among the NIU defensive ends in tackles with 22 and co-led the team in fumble recoveries as Northern Illinois led the MAC in total defense and was selected to play in the Independence Bowl.
Entering 2009, Coffman emerged as one of the leaders of a young Huskie team. He started 12 games and finished the season with 8.5 quarterback sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss to lead Northern Illinois. He also tied for the team lead in pass break-ups while making 39 tackles. Versus Western Michigan, he batted down a pass, caught it and ran 79 yards for a touchdown. He was named the MAC West Defensive Player of the Week following both the WMU and Ohio games.
When recounting his journey from high school through 2009, Coffman revealed the sentiments that made him the choice for the Male Athlete of the Year honor.
"Eight years ago when I joined the Marines, if you'd have told me I was going to receive an award like this, I'd have laughed in your face," he said. "I came back to play because I missed it and I loved it, not because I thought I was going to get any kind of recognition. I played because I loved it and got rewarded for sticking with it."
Despite having one more season of eligibility, the now 26-year old Coffman, who will graduate from Northern Illinois this spring with a degree in sociology, decided to make the 2009 season his last.
"I'm proud of the team and what we accomplished this year," Coffman said. "I'm proud of my teammates. I had a great time playing with the guys, seeing them grow up and perform the way they did this year. I put a lot of thought into the decision [to retire] and told my family and the coaches. This award really caps it off."
Kill said he has been privileged to coach an individual like Coffman.
"We have had a great relationship," Kill said. "I have thoroughly enjoyed my opportunity to be around Jake and to coach him. He came in to talk to me [about his decision] and it was emotional. I respect him immensely, he has been through a lot and I know that he will be successful in whatever he does in the future."
The 2009 Male Athlete of the Year Award will be presented to Jake Coffman during the 55th Touchdown Club of Columbus Awards Banquet on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010 at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion in Downtown Columbus. In addition to Coffman, professional boxer Buster Douglas, Stanford running back Toby Gerhart and Ohio State legend Archie Griffin are expected to be on hand at the Awards Banquet, along with a host of other college and high school football honorees. For more information on the event, go to www.touchdownclubofcolumbus.com.
-- NIU --
Keep up with all the latest news on Northern Illinois sports, read "Huskie Happenings" daily on www.NIUHuskies.com.