BALTIMORE—The list of quarterbacks who participated in the Rivals Five-Star Challenge was, if nothing else, geographically predictable. Six of the eight passers hail from three of the top talent-producing states in the country: California, Florida and Texas. One other is from Alabama, where college football fan allegiance is ordained at birth. The final quarterback was an outlier.
Jack Coan, a class of 2017 recruit, resides in a state that has not seen any of its three Football Bowl Subdivision programs win more than eight games since ’01.
“It’s a father’s dream,” Coan’s father, Mike, said from the stands at M&T Bank Stadium while watching Jack sling passes to some of the top receivers in the country.
Had the event been a few weeks earlier, Coan might not have received the coveted invite. New York’s Long Island does not produce many Division I football prospects, but the recent buzz surrounding the Sayville High product forced recruitniks to sit up and take notice. An initial scholarship offer set off a month-long stretch in which Coan ascended from under-the-radar talent to projected Power Five starter. His rise cannot be fully appreciated without considering the work it took to engineer it.
Another sport reigns king on Long Island, so when colleges first took notice of Coan, it was for his aptitude as an attacker/midfielder rather than a passer.
Coan impressed on the lacrosse field, and his visits to different camps drew interest from several schools, including powerhouses Duke and Maryland. He committed to Notre Dame’s lacrosse program last summer on the same day the school offered him a scholarship. Although football was Coan’s first love, “You can’t pass up opportunities like that,” his father said.
It’s not unusual for lacrosse players from Long Island to draw attention from brand-name programs. The area’s history of cultivating talent in the sport means lacrosse players are far less likely to slip through the cracks than their football counterparts.
Despite his talent in his environment’s marquee sport, Coan continued to pursue football after growing up playing the game in a local youth league. Rob Hoss, the coach at Sayville, said Coan stood out from other players because of his height and good mechanics for his age. Hoss was such a strong believer in Coan that he called the quarterback up to the jayvee team as an eighth grader to give him experience running a more complicated offense. Coan worked frequently with Hoss to master the scheme before debuting as the varsity team’s starter as a freshman.
That season Coan matured mentally and physically, but Hoss said there were some growing pains. Coan was so thin that Hoss said he looked like the clay animation character Gumby. A few aspects of Coan’s game, like his throwing velocity, needed further refinement.
Stronger and with a better mental grasp of Sayville’s offense, Coan completed nearly 60 percent of his passes as a sophomore and set Long Island records with 3,432 passing yards and 40 passing touchdowns. He led Sayville to the Long Island Class III championship game.
The production was impressive, but it’s not difficult to see why FBS coaches struggled to know what to make of it. Few brand-name programs spend a lot of time recruiting Long Island, which typically features weak competition.
Expanding the range to all of New York, the state has bore only six top-100 recruits over the last 10 classes (2007-16), according to Rivals.com. Only one of those prospects, Christian Brothers Academy’s Mike Paulus (’07), was a quarterback.
The pool is even more limited for Sayville signal-callers. Before Coan, no Golden Flashes passer is believed to have received a scholarship offer from an FBS program since the 1970s. Knowing exposure would be difficult to come by, Hoss sought to spread the word about a quarterback that, by his estimation, had FBS potential.
He sent Coan’s tape to programs around the country, hoping it would lead to visits and offers. Hoss often followed up with calls and emails but says he was “blown off for a long time.” He grew frustrated watching Coan light up defenses but fail to gain traction on the recruiting trail.
“Shame on you guys to not think there can be a needle in the haystack,” Hoss remembers saying. “I’ve got a kid right now, just watch his damn film. I’m not asking you to believe me. Watch the freaking film. I get the level of talent’s going to be a little different, but look at him, watch him.”
Hoss’s aggressiveness finally paid off in April. A representative from Miami, a program Hoss never spoke to directly, notified him that Hurricanes offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach James Coley planned to visit Sayville to see Coan.
At first, Hoss was skeptical about why Miami, a school located in one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country, was interested in seeing his quarterback. “I said to him, ‘Coach, don’t you have like 25 kids in Florida who look just like my kid? Why do you have to come to New York for my kid?’” Hoss remembers of his conversation with Coley. “[Coley] was like, ‘Listen, we have great athletes in Miami, great athletes. We have great athletes in Florida. But we don’t have a lot of pro-style quarterbacks that look like your kid.”
Miami offered Coan a scholarship after he performed well in the workout. Impressive showings in subsequent workouts validated what coaches saw on film and led to more offers, including ones from Rutgers, Michigan and Maryland. The workouts often took place before lacrosse practices, and Coan was also doing strength and conditioning work multiple days per week.
The excessive activity led Coan to develop a foot infection that he refused to get treated, fearing that doctors would shut him down and force him to cancel workouts. Eventually Coan had to get the foot treated and was sidelined for a few days. “He was just grinding so hard that his body just finally kind of failed on him a little bit,” Hoss says.
Though Coan elevated his stature in football recruiting circles, he technically remained committed to play lacrosse at Notre Dame. Hoss had been receiving questions from football coaches about Coan’s plans—specifically whether he intended to honor that first commitment. Coan liked Notre Dame and had developed a strong relationship with the school’s lacrosse coach, Kevin Corrigan, but he ultimately decided he would play football in college. Still Coan says he has not ruled out the possibility of continuing to play lacrosse through high school.
“I still love lacrosse,” Coan says, adding that he thinks “some aspects of lacrosse help me in football, too.”
Coan says Florida and Stanford are among the schools who have expressed interest in him but have yet to extend offers. He plans to take several visits but has no timetable on when he’ll make a decision.
There likely is a “copycat” element to Coan’s sudden accumulation of offers. He was not a complete unknown prior to this spring; Hoss said Maryland and Rutgers had expressed some interest in Coan following his freshman season. But Miami’s decision to offer him prompted several other programs to follow suit.
While it’s impossible to know how Coan’s recruitment would have progressed had he played in an area that big-time programs devote more time and resources to scouting, earlier live evaluations probably would have led to more offers.
Rivals.com’s Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Analyst Adam Friedman said at the Five-Star Challenge that he was impressed by Coan’s arm strength and poise. “He’s throwing some pretty good balls out here,” Friedman said of Coan, who measured at 6’3” and 186 pounds. “He’s shown good arm strength, he’s shown pretty good accuracy. He hasn’t been fazed by the big-time environment.”
Now that Coan is firmly on the recruiting radar, the fact that he hails from a place that’s often neglected by FBS programs shouldn’t prevent him from drawing more interest and offers. And Coan has plenty of time to decide. His signing day isn’t for another 20 months.
In the meantime Hoss can rest easy knowing he won’t have to enter the next high school season spending hours trying to persuade college coaches that his quarterback is good enough to play for them. “Now I’m in a position where I’m calling people back,” Hoss says, “as opposed to me begging someone to look at him.”