LOS ANGELES — Jack Coan dropped back to pass on the final play of the Big Ten Championship Game and didn’t see an open target.
The game was already over — the University of Wisconsin football team was down two scores with the final seconds ticking off the clock — but Coan, a junior quarterback, was still trying to make a play. He scrambled to his right and tried to make his way to the end zone. He was stopped 3 yards short by a walloping hit from Ohio State safety Josh Proctor.
It was the kind of hit few quarterbacks can take in stride, and it sparked some discussion online about whether Proctor should’ve been penalized for targeting.
Coan was only down for second or two before getting back to his feet.
Christian Doller didn’t see the play in question, he but wasn’t surprised to hear about it. Doller, the Sayville (New York) High School lacrosse coach, knew about Coan’s toughness well before Coan was the quarterback getting ready to lead his team to the Rose Bowl against Oregon.
“When he played, he was younger. He started for me in ninth grade on the varsity team. We had a good, physical team. And he was tall. People didn’t want to see him getting his, or do well,” Doller said. “If you can’t get the ball from them, then they’re just trying to hit people. He got his share. He was younger than everybody, he’d get knocked down, but he bounced back every time. That’s where the physicality in football helps, because mentally, you just don’t stay down.”
Coan becoming a Division I quarterback was unheard of in his hometown of Sayville, a hamlet on the southern end of Long Island. Like the majority of the boys his age, he grew up playing lacrosse and football, and his lacrosse skills developed quickly.
After Coan’s freshman lacrosse season, he was garnering college programs’ attention, and he orally committed to play at Notre Dame.
“It was good to be running around and making plays. Lacrosse is just a really fun game. I feel like it’s a combination of all different sports, and playing with a bunch of guys that I grew up with, it was pretty fun,” Coan said.
Coan said football was always his greater passion. But a substantial factor in Coan’s decision to commit to a college lacrosse opportunity was that football recruiters rarely, if ever, came to Long Island to find players.
His football coach at Sayville, Rob Hoss, hounded college football coaches to watch tape on Coan, whose size, intelligence and arm talent were worthy of a scholarship.
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One can see the evidence of Coan’s lacrosse roots on the football field. Coan has shown toughness when hit, and the ability to take a hit in order to deliver a pass when he needs to. Even his quick throwing motion is similar to the mechanics of a lacrosse shot, Doller said.
“I’d say it’s similar in the way that a quarterback distributes the ball to other guys, and sometimes has to run around and make plays. Lacrosse, that’s all it is, just running around and finding open guys or scoring yourself,” Coan said.
Doller has seen the crossover between quarterback and lacrosse player be a successful one throughout his tenure at Sayville. Coan set scoring and assist records while at Sayville, and they’ve since been broken by other quarterbacks who hit the lacrosse fields in the spring.
“I tell the football guys, all the guys really, the most successful lacrosse players are all quarterbacks at heart. Their minds have to work like a quarterback, because things are moving so fast. While you’re running with the ball, people are coming at you, you have to see the field,” Doller said.
Doller put Coan in what he called the ‘X’ position on the lacrosse field — a spot where he’d get the ball behind the goal, read the defense and decide whether to attack with a shot or draw defenders to him before making a pass.
“The guys are coming to crush you and you’ve got to get the ball and pass it quickly,” Doller said.
Coan passed on his senior year of lacrosse to enroll early at UW. He earned the starting job this season after getting his first handful of starts last season when Alex Hornibrook suffered a concussion.
Now, days away from taking snaps at the Rose Bowl, Doller said he never could’ve imagined he’d see Coan at this level.
“It’s a little surreal. I’ve known the kid since he was like 6 years old. Then to see him on that stage … and honestly, I’ll say it again, a stage I didn’t think our guys from Long Island obtain. It just didn’t happen,” Doller said. “When I see him, I’m rooting for him and I’m proud.”
A look back: Badgers’ history in the Rose Bowl
Jan. 1, 1953
Result: USC 7, UW 0
Recap: Alan Ameche’s lone appearance in the Rose Bowl didn’t go his way.
The Badgers, playing in their first bowl game in program history, battled the Trojans to a halftime tie, and looked poised to score after Ameche (photographed above) gained 54 yards on a run and got UW just outside the red zone. A fumble nixed that drive, and gave USC momentum to score on the ensuing possession.
UW got inside the USC 5-yard line the next possession, but was stopped on a fake field goal try. Both defenses tallied two interceptions, but the Badgers couldn’t find a score.
The Badgers gained 211 yards on the ground, led by Ameche’s 133.
Jan. 1, 1960
Result: Washington 44, UW 8
Recap: The Badgers’ strong defense under coach Milt Bruhn (above) finally failed them after the offense turned it over four times, all on fumbles.
Washington scored the first 17 points in the first half, and after UW got on the board with Tom Wiesner’s short run late in the second quarter, the Huskies answered with a touchdown to lead 24-8 at the break.
After a third-quarter Badgers’ drive was stopped inside the 10, UW’s offense never threatened again. Washington’s rushing attack outgained the Badgers 215-123.
Jan. 1, 1963
Result: USC 42, UW 37
Recap: After falling behind 42-14 in the second half, UW mounted one of the best comeback efforts in Rose Bowl history.
UW quarterback Ron Vander Kelen led a pair of quick scoring drives to get back into the game, and then a bad punt snap by USC gave the Badgers the ball back late. Vander Kelen led the three-play scoring drive to draw within a score, but USC was able to hang on.
Vander Kelen passed for 401 yards and completed 33 of 48 passes; he also had three interceptions. His 401 yards were a program and Rose Bowl record at the time, and he was named the co-MVP of the game. Pat Richter hauled in 11 passes for 163 yards for UW.
Hal Bledsoe (101) and Willie Brown (108) each went over 100 yards receiving for USC.
Jan. 1, 1994
Result: UW 21, UCLA 16
Recap: The Badgers finally broke through in their fourth chance at a Rose Bowl.
The defense forced six turnovers — five fumbles and one interception — and the offense did just enough to down the Bruins. UW running back Brent Moss tallied 158 yards and two scores on 36 carries, and quarterback Darrell Bevell’s 21-yard scramble in the fourth quarter proved to be the winning score.
UCLA tallied 500 yards of offense, but didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
The Bruins made a last-gasp attempt to win the game, but were stopped at the Badgers’ 18-yard line and the clock ran out before another snap could take place.
Jan. 1, 1999
Result: UW 38, UCLA 31
Recap: After finishing in a three-way tie for the Big Ten title, the Badgers were heavy underdogs going into the 1999 Rose Bowl. But a dominant performance from Ron Dayne and the UW offensive line was enough to power UW to a win.
Dayne scored three times in the first half, including a 54-yard run late in the first quarter, to help the Badgers build a 24-21 lead at halftime. He scored again in the third quarter, this time from 22 yards out. Jamar Fletcher had a 46-yard interception return for a score off UCLA’s Cade McNown that scored the winning points.
Dayne finished with 246 yards, and was named the game’s MVP. Quarterback Mike Samuel had 154 yards passing and added 65 yards rushing for UW.
Jan. 1, 2000
Result: UW 17, Stanford 9
Recap: UW made history by becoming the first Big Ten team to win back-to-back Rose Bowls after it defeated the Cardinal.
Ron Dayne, the Heisman Trophy winner, and his Badgers came out of the gates slow, and trailed 9-3 at halftime. But Dayne kicked things off quickly in the second half with a 64-yard run to give UW life. Dayne scored later on the drive, and quarterback Brooks Bollinger punched in a 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.
UW’s defense, which held Stanford to minus-5 yards rushing, came up with a sack on a fourth down to end the Cardinal’s final drive.
Dayne won game MVP again after capping his UW career with 200 yards on 34 carries.
Jan. 1, 2011
Result: TCU 21, UW 19
Recap: The Badgers’ chance for a thrilling comeback in the last two minutes was dashed when TCU’s Tank Carder broke up a pass on a two-point conversion try.
UW had trouble moving the ball in the red zone despite having three dependable tailbacks in Montee Ball, John Clay and James White. Ball finished with 132 yards and a score, while Clay had 76 yards and a TD.
TCU’s Andy Dalton threw for a touchdown and ran for one in the first quarter, and led a third-quarter touchdown drive that proved to be the difference. Dalton threw for 219 yards.
Jan. 2, 2012
Result: Oregon 45, UW 38
Recap: The Badgers came up just short in what was the highest-scoring Rose Bowl to that point.
UW quarterback Russell Wilson tried to spike a pass in the final seconds to give the team one more play to go for a tying score, but time ran out before the spike could be executed.
The Badgers led five times against the high-flying Ducks, but couldn’t keep pace in the fourth quarter after Oregon took the lead for good. Two second-half turnovers helped sink UW.
Wilson had 296 yards and two touchdowns passing, and had a rushing score. Montee Ball had 164 yards on 32 carries. Oregon’s LaMichael James (159) and De’Anthony Thomas (155) each had big games, with Thomas scoring on runs of 91 and 64 yards.
Jan. 1, 2013
Result: Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14
Recap: Another Rose Bowl comeback came up just short for the Badgers.
After falling behind 14-0, UW got back into the game by scoring twice in the second quarter. Down six and with the ball in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Badgers’ quarterback Curt Phillips was picked off to end the threat.
Montee Ball became the first player to score a touchdown in three consecutive Rose Bowls, and had 100 yards on 24 carries.
Barry Alvarez coached for the Badgers after Bret Beilema took the head coaching job at Arkansas prior to the game.