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Coco's determination at Tech pays off in a big way for 2021

Life as a walk-on for an NCAA Division I football player is not a challenge for which many people have the grit, patience and determination. It’s basically all the hard work, if not more, than a scholarship player puts in, but not very many of the same rewards.

Very few walk down that road and even fewer are ultimately rewarded for it with a full scholarship. Recently, Georgia Tech’s Jack Coco became one of those select few that did everything required of him and more and earned the pay-off in the end.

Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins awarded Coco his scholarship during a team meeting on the first day of Fall Camp. The redshirt-junior tight end and long snapper, who has already graduated from Georgia Tech and is working on his Master’s said he was completely caught off guard by the presentation but it was the culmination of a lot of long, tough days with no definitive end in sight.

The trimmed down Coco hauls in a pass and uses a stiff arm to get extra yards in practice
The trimmed down Coco hauls in a pass and uses a stiff arm to get extra yards in practice (Kelly Quinlan/JOL)

“It was a complete surprise,” said Coco. “There was not a doubt in my mind that it was a complete surprise. I’m not going to lie, I’ve worked so hard and knowing how far I’ve come and knowing where I’ve gotten to, I know I still can go way, way, way higher above the threshold I believe I’m at now. I didn’t think it was going to come. Coming after the first day of camp, we all go into meetings, we all go into our first meeting, go through compliance and then go into our first team meeting…we did the Ultimate Iron Jacket thing. And they announced I got a full scholarship…I was completely overwhelmed. It was complete by blindside. I feel like I got hit by a Mac Truck. It was absolutely ridiculous. It made it all worthwhile. It tells me that I am doing something right with my life and I’m going in the right direction.”

Soon after the incredible news was broken to Coco and his teammates, who swarmed him in celebration, Collins Facetimed Coco’s parents, who were also overcome with emotion as their son became a scholarship athlete for the Jackets.

“They were speechless,” said Coco. “My mom I think started crying in the moment, and I started crying in the moment. My dad was just saying my hard work, my effort, everything pays off and this just shows that you can do anything you put your mind to. I firmly believe that. No matter what limitations you think you have, if you really put your mind to something, sure there might be things in the way, but there is a way around it. You can get to where you want to go.”

Coco decided to walk on at Georgia Tech in 2017 after receiving few scholarship offers out of high school after playing at Johns Creek High in Fulton County. He said former assistant coach Ron West talked to him about the opportunity, and the proximity of the school to home as well as the great education he would receive at Tech made the decision a pretty easy one.

Coco played two seasons under former Tech head coach Paul Johnson where he redshirted in 2017 and then saw playing time in 2018, serving as the snapper on all field goal and extra-point attempts in the Jackets’ 11 games where he didn’t record a bad snap all season, helping former kicker Wesley Wells go a perfect 9-for-9 on field goals and 39-for-39 on PATs. He continued his snapping duties in 2019 in Collins’ first year as head coach, going perfect again on snaps on kick attempts in nine games.

The younger and thicker Jack Coco in 2019
The younger and thicker Jack Coco in 2019 (Kelly Quinlan/JOL)

Following that season, Coco went through a physical makeover to transition from offensive line to tight end as well as retaining long-snapping duties. He lost 30 pounds in the offseason to become a big contributor at the tight end position, serving as a key blocker in the run game and also catching four passes on the season. He continued his streak of perfect snaps on Tech kick attempts while doing all that extra work as well.

Coco said he drew inspiration from current teammates Djimon Brooks and Dylan Leonard who, like he did, came to Georgia Tech as a walk-on and eventually earned a full scholarship.

“The Dylan (Leonard) story is very cool to me, but one story that really stuck with me is the Djimon (Brooks) story,” said Coco. “Djimon was like me. He came in with the old staff. He worked through three or four years for him with Paul Johnson, he comes into this new culture and is the definition of hard work and character and effort. And he gets a scholarship. It’s absolutely amazing to see. Having guys like Dylan and Djimon along the way doing the same thing that I’ve now accomplished, which is the ultimate goal you can do as a walk-on…get a scholarship…it’s just great to see other guys being able to do the same thing. It’s a very small group of walk-ons that actually do earn a scholarship. People really don’t see the total grind it takes for a walk-on to get to a full scholarship. It’s a completely different level. It’s not like we come out of high school and we’re given a lot of different things or we get a lot of these extra opportunities because they are already paying for our school. We have to earn every dollar we get (to pay for school). You can’t step back because when we step back, we take 10 steps back. It’s not like a scholarship guy where they take a step back and it’s just two steps back. We take 10. We get very limited chances so we’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity. That’s kind of how I’ve lived the last two years playing tight end.”

As Coco prepares to go into his redshirt-junior season (fifth at Tech after receiving the free year of eligibility last season due to the NCAA’s decision on the Covid-altered 2020 campaign), he said the work is not finished now that he is on scholarship. It just continues with the next goal. That’s the way he keeps motivating himself forward to bigger and better things.

“There are a lot of steps in your life, and there are a lot of goals,” said Coco. “Always having that next goal to achieve helps drive you forward. That’s always how I look at everything.”

Tight ends coach Chris Wiesehan says the value they get offensively from Coco is something that many outsiders don’t appreciate.

“The functionality of him and his ability, he's got great hat speed right he's got great physicality, and he can fit runs at a very high level and he can process the information at very high level so to have a guy like that, It's invaluable,” Wiesehan said.

Leonard was in the same boat a few years ago as a walk-on trying to earn a scholarship and he said seeing a guy in his own room made the moment very special when Coco got put on scholarship.

“He's made a big impact in the tight end position and I feel like he came in as offensive lineman and he kind of pushed us to be more physical in the blocking game as well. So, he helped the position group as a whole and he's also a hell of a player too so I was really happy for him. It was awesome for him. I know exactly how I felt so it was it was pretty awesome,” Leonard said.

Coco and the Jackets are just a few weeks away from opening the 2021 season when they host Northern Illinois at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. He said he is ready to get going and will always be thankful he made the decision to come to The Flats no matter how much hard work he has had to put in to get to where he’s at now.

“It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said Coco. “I’ll never regret coming to Georgia Tech as a walk-on.”