Iowa CITY, Iowa - Ask Marcus Coker about teammate Jordan Canzeri and the grin looks like the cat that ate the canary. It's as if he knows something that people on the outside of the Iowa program do not.
Canzeri created some buzz two weeks ago against ULM. The true freshman played for the first time this season and showed an exciting burst not seen from a running back since Damien Simms.
"Honestly, I wasn't surprised at all when he came in," Coker said. "He's shown the same thing in practice. He gives 150 percent on the field every single play. He finishes down field and he runs really hard."
Canzeri is generously listed at 5-foot-9, 172 pounds on the Hawkeye roster. The Troy, NY product plays bigger.
Against ULM, Canzeri carried five times for 30 yards with a long spurt of 12. Even when stood up by a defender, his legs never stopped moving as he fought for every last inch of ground.
With the redshirt now off, Canzeri serves as a nice change-of pace-back to the punishing Coker, the starter, and fellow true freshman, Damon Bullock. All three catch the ball well, but Canzeri might be the most dangerous in the open field.
Coker said that Canzeri is one of the smartest running backs on the team.
"Within the first couple of days he was here, he picked up the offense," Coker said. "It was like nothing for him. He reads the defenses well."
Canzeri earned first-team all-state honors after rushing for 2,048 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior. He also sprinted for the track team for four years.
"We are happy with what we saw," Iowa Offensive Coordinator Ken O'Keefe said of Canzeri. "There's no doubt about it, and I think that's what we expected him to be able to do."
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz has been a fan of Canzeri's since first seeing his tape last December. The diminutive ball carrier heard little from other BCS schools and verbally committed to FCS Villanova. He then got an Iowa scholarship offer, visited the school and took his shot at the big time.
The coaches aren't quite sure how they will use Canzeri going forward this season.
"Marcus is our No. 1 running back, that's for sure, and I think Jason White has got a really nice role carved out and we feel pretty comfortable with how he's being used and after that it's wide open," Ferentz said. "I know this: We have got eight very tough teams ahead of us and we are going to need everybody; all of the help we can get at all positions and Jordan, he has really elevated himself a little bit in this equation.
"One of our concerns was his size and one of those first one runs, one guy came up to him at the line and he kept going. I thought he looked really good out there."
This season represented the fifth in a row where Iowa has given carries to at least one true freshman running back. The string began in 2007 with Jevon Pugh and continued with Jewel Hampton ('08), Brandon Wegher ('09), Coker ('10) and Canzeri, Bullock and Mika'il McCall in '11.
Ferentz implemented a rule prohibiting true freshmen from speaking to the media, so we probably won't hear from Canzeri until the spring. Coker was set free after winning offensive player of the game honors at the Insight Bowl in December.