Coleman Coco arrived at South Main as another transfer in an impressive signing class. He then became the clear-cut 2023 Rice Football Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Thousands of players enter the Transfer Portal every offseason. The coach’s job is to find the right ones that fit the program and get them on campus. Hit rates are mixed. Some wash out before they ever play a down. Others help change the trajectory of the program itself. Colgate transfer Coleman Coco did just that and was an easy pick for our 2023 Rice Football Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
From the moment Coco arrived on campus, he couldn’t be missed. Spring practices were filled with his commanding voice followed by impressive plays on the field. Defensive coordinator Brian Smith called him an “alpha kind of guy”, praising his leadership right out of the gate. That gave the staff hope. Perhaps they’d found a keeper at a coveted position, defensive end.
Week by week, Coco continued to turn heads. Teammate Blake Boenisch called him “the fastest learner” he’d seen at Rice. His position coach Cedric Calhoun was wowed by his ability to make adjustments. “Once he’s seen it once [on film], he’s good,” Calhoun remarked.
Coco finished the spring strong, notching a sack in the spring game and entering the fall as the projected starter and would go on to start every game. In large part due to Coco’s presence, a defensive line that was forced to replace three veteran starters from a year ago played even better.
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Coco led the team in sacks (four) and tackles for a loss (nine) while also finishing sixth on the team in total tackles, no small feat from the defensive line. In his first season on campus, Coco posted career bests across the board, graduating from an All-Patriot League player to someone who probably deserved postseason recognition of some kind in the American.
To get that level of play from a transfer with Coco’s resume was incredible.
“He’s been such a home run,” head coach Mike Bloomgren after the season. “He’s just been amazing with his play. His passion for this game is contagious. He immediately fit right into what we’re doing.” Bloomgren would also call Coco “a walking advertisement for our program,” lauding how well Coco assimilated into the culture and became a champion of those ideals.
One needed to look no further than Coco’s own comments following the Owls’ bowl-clinching victory against FAU. “361 days ago Rice offered me when I jumped in the portal,” Coco said. “It was kind of a no-brainer from the start and to be a part of it and be with these guys and have the opportunity to have a winning season for the first time in long while, it’s great. I’m very, very thankful for the coaches, the staff and everybody to be here. It’s pretty awesome.”
Always the first to credit his coaches for his growth and his teammates for an assist that set up a big play, Coco’s energy was contagious. It seemed impossible to be morose or downtrodden when he was next to you and his mentality permeated the locker room. No matter the score or the situation, Coco was convinced Rice would come out on top. And he hasn’t stopped preaching that message.
“If you would like a world-class education and to be a part of football team, that is going on the up-and-up, and doing things that people cannot think that you can do, it’s the place to be,” Coco said following that FAU game, making his pitch for Rice football to all who would listen.
“We know we have a talented ball club. We know we’re going to be even better next year. So if you if you want to be a part of a winning team, a part of a great culture, it’s the place for you. I’m so thankful to be here. When [the media] talked to me after Houston, I said ‘I love it here’. Eleven weeks later, I love it even more.”
Rice football certainly loves Coleman Coco. They wouldn’t have had the season they did without him.
* Photo Credit: Maria Lysaker *
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