It’s ‘super crazy’ as Jack Coco earns a Georgia Tech scholarship

Georgia Tech long snapper/tight end Jack Coco makes his first career catch against Central Florida at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Sept. 19, 2020.

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Georgia Tech long snapper/tight end Jack Coco makes his first career catch against Central Florida at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Sept. 19, 2020.

Jack Coco had achieved more than any walk-on might expect to accomplish at Georgia Tech. Arriving in 2017 as an offensive lineman and long snapper, Coco earned a spot as the team’s snapper for placekicks, which he did for two seasons, in 2018-19. But he wanted more.

So in the early months of 2020, he dropped 30 pounds, transforming his body by losing fat and gaining muscle, and turned into a tight end who saw consistent snaps as a backup. But even that wasn’t quite enough.

“You’d think he would kind of gear back a little bit,” his father Ed Coco said. “But he was on a mission after that season to get even stronger and better.”

Coco trained so hard in the weight room that he was one of six Yellow Jackets players recognized as Ultimate Iron Jackets. He continued to slim down and make gains in strength and explosiveness. On Friday night, his relentless determination was rewarded with the surprise of his life when he was awarded a scholarship.

“Look at me,” Coco said Saturday after the team’s second practice of the preseason. “I was a walk-on at a Power 5 school. Never thought I was going to get to play. Went from O-line to tight end and worked my absolute tail off to have an opportunity to play as much as possible this year and I was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship. It’s crazy. Super crazy.”

Coach Geoff Collins made the presentation at a team meeting at the end of the first day of practice. Collins called forward Coco and the other five Ultimate Iron Jackets (offensive linemen Devin Cochran and Ryan Johnson, linebackers Ayinde Eley and Demetrius Knight and cornerback Tobias Oliver) who had won the honor, voted on by the team’s strength coaches, for their effort and leadership. Their teammates shouted out “Ultimate Iron Jacket” as Collins called out each player while an overhead projector displayed slides for each player on a large screen at the front of the room.

Then, after all six were up front, Collins moved to the next slide, one with Coco’s name, photo and the words “full scholarship.” The team read it aloud in unison, erupted in cheers and mobbed Coco at the front of the room as he fought back tears. The team tweeted out a video of the moment, which ran wild across Twitter, collecting more than 71,000 views by Saturday afternoon.

“It was a complete blindside,” Coco said. “I feel like I got hit by a Mack truck in the left ear. It was absolutely ridiculous.”

His parents were informed as they were driving to dinner when Collins called them via FaceTime and had their son break the news.

“It was a wonderful moment,” Jill Coco said.

Earning a scholarship had been a goal of his since he enrolled at Tech. Coming from Johns Creek High, he was a late recruit, getting offered a spot as a preferred walk-on in January (2017) of his senior year. He brought a determination to Tech forged by a high-school career in which he initially played through a painful knee condition, bulked up to play on the offensive line and made himself a more attractive recruit by learning to long snap.

“Nothing was easy for him, and so that made him even more determined,” Ed Coco said. “And he had some people that doubted him. That put a fire in his belly. He was just determined to achieve something.”

His track at Tech changed after the 2019 season. Uncomfortable with the weight he was carrying and not satisfied with only long snapping, he went to Collins to ask if there was something else he could do besides offensive line. Collins suggested tight end, and Coco attacked it. He lost weight with a high-protein diet, eating eggs and protein shakes in the morning followed by grilled chicken and salads for lunch and dinner, a menu he followed almost exclusively for about two months. Beyond that, he learned to play tight end after having played offensive line throughout high school and his first three years at Tech (although he played tight end and running back into middle school).

“He completely changed his body, his skill set,” Collins said.

Last year, Coco backed up tight ends Dylan Leonard and Dylan Deveney, played on three special-teams units and was flawless on his long snaps. His most memorable game might have been against Central Florida, when he made his first career reception and threw the lead block for running back Jahmyr Gibbs on a 33-yard touchdown run.

After his promising junior season, Coco turned it up again this past offseason, sometimes lifting twice a day. Collins termed it “a ridiculous offseason.” Under the guidance of head strength coach Lewis Caralla, Coco increased his bench-press reps of 225 pounds from 23 last year to about 30.

“Stamina-wise, it’s just night and day,” Coco said.

Coco trimmed down so much that, when he went to a family wedding in July wearing a suit with a 36-inch waist that his father had bought him last year, “the pants were falling off,” Ed Coco said. “I go, ‘Jack, what’s going on?’”

The cheers and hugs that enveloped Coco on Friday night were genuine.

“All the players love him, all the coaches love him,” Collins said. “He embodies every single thing that we talk about as a program from an effort standpoint, from a competition standpoint, from being a great leader, being a great teammate. All of those things rolled up into one person, and that’s Jack Coco.”

Coco has taken inspiration from other Tech walk-ons who have earned scholarships in his time – offensive lineman Bailey Ivemeyer, defensive tackle Djimon Brooks and Leonard. It is no small accomplishment. The team might carry 30 walk-ons, and many surrender their football dreams after one or two seasons because of the time demands of school and football and a bleak outlook on playing time. It requires a different kind of perseverance to handle both, usually with little hope for playing time.

Coco called it a “completely different” experience than being a scholarship athlete.

“We can’t step back because when we step back, we take 10 steps back,” he said. “It’s not like a scholarship guy. When they take a step back, they take two steps back. We take 10. We get very limited chances, so you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity you get.”

He took hold of the offer to try to play tight end. And now has grabbed a scholarship, which will cover tuition and fees for his enrollment in the master’s program for real estate development, a degree he can earn in May.

He graduated in May with a business-administration degree, and has had three internships, including one this summer with a real-estate investment firm.

“He’s leveraged Georgia Tech as much as he possibly can,” Ed Coco said.

He now has one final season – he does have the option to return for an extra season because of COVID-19, but said he’s most likely planning for this to be it – and then has aspirations of making it to the NFL with his versatility as a long snapper, special-teamer and tight end/H-back. On Saturday, he shared his plans to leave it all on the field in pursuit of the next dream.

“(Time) is short,” Coco said. “And I’m going to make the most of it completely. Because it’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’ll never regret coming to Georgia Tech as a walk-on.”