When Carson Coffman played quarterback at Kansas State, he referred to college football and the NFL the same way all of us do. Now he calls them both “outdoor” football.
Coffman also used to consider 200 passing yards and three touchdowns a wildly successful game. Now he won’t brag unless he tosses eight touchdowns.
That’s what happens when you embrace life in the Arena Football League.
“It’s a little different than the outdoor game,” Coffman said. “There are some nuances to it, but it has come fairly easy to me. It’s fast-paced and high-scoring. You don’t get as excited about touchdowns, because they come so often, but it is a fun game. I really enjoy it.”
Coffman has enjoyed it most this season as the starting quarterback for the Iowa Barnstormers, the same team that launched Kurt Warner’s memorable NFL career. The Peculiar, Mo., native has completed 167 of 282 passes for 2,154 yards and 38 touchdowns to go along with 55 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Those statistics rank in the top eight of most AFL passing categories, despite his absence from five games with sprained ligaments in his knee.
He is scheduled to return to action on Friday against the Pittsburgh Power, and his goal is to help the Barnstormers make a late playoff push.
“That would be pretty cool,” Coffman said. “We also have a receiver (Marco Thomas) who is leading every statistical category in the league (1,472 yards and 33 touchdowns) and I want to make sure he ends up being the top receiver in the league. There is a lot to play for.”
The pressure to make the postseason in the AFL doesn’t compare to college football, where Coffman regularly played in front of 50,000 fans, but he hasn’t given up on his ultimate dream of the NFL. If he plays well enough, maybe he can impress a scout. He tries to use his past experience to his advantage.
Coffman quarterbacked Kansas State during an interesting time. The team was in a phase of transition when he saw most of his playing time, with Bill Snyder coming out of retirement before the 2009 season.
The Wildcats weren’t nearly as good then as they were during Snyder’s glory years or the team’s current resurgence, but they were on the rise. Some fans viewed Coffman, an on-again, off-again starter during his final two seasons as a weak link on an offense that featured current NFL running back Daniel Thomas. Others appreciated the way he pushed Collin Klein to develop and helped K-State reach the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl, breaking a four-year postseason drought. The Wildcats have been to a bowl every year since.
“It was neat to be part of that building block and the return of Coach Snyder, helping them to where they are now,” Coffman said. “I wish I could have done what they did the next couple years, but it was a process.”
Coffman’s college career featured lows, losing the starting job after four games as a junior. It also featured highs, ranking near the top of K-State’s record books with a completion percentage of 63.4 (first) and an efficiency rating of 143.1 (fifth) as a senior. He also had a spectacular game in a 59-7 victory over Kansas, completing 15 of 16 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. His only throw that hit the ground was a drop by Tramaine Thompson.
“He’s with the Atlanta Falcons now, ready to start a great career as a receiver,” Coffman said. “But I still give him a hard time about that one.”
Coffman’s skills haven’t translated to the NFL, but they have thrived in the AFL.
“We have two of the best receivers in the league, we have a good coach and I have adjusted to the game,” Coffman said. “You really have to get rid of the ball quickly in arena football. You always have one guy going in motion full speed at the line of scrimmage. If he is running a timing route, the ball has to be out immediately.
“It allows you to develop some skills you wouldn’t necessarily get to work on in the outdoor game, but at the same time your footwork tends to get a little sloppier. I will always love the outdoor game more – regular football – but this has been a great experience for me.”
Coffman’s entrance into the AFL came partly out of his dream to make the NFL, but mostly from his desire to continue playing the sport he loves. He joined the Utah Blaze as a rookie at the recommendation of Ernie Pierce, a friend and former K-State receiver, and he expected to play immediately. But Tommy Grady, the AFL MVP that year, won the job soundly.
That turned out to be a good thing.
“I spent the entire year on the bench learning from a great quarterback,” Coffman said. “He broke every statistical record that year. That helped me a lot.”
Coffman became the starter for the Chicago Rush the following season, throwing for 3,583 yards and 73 touchdowns. That drew the attention of the Barnstormers, a team with a history of great quarterbacks.
Now he’s hoping to follow in their footsteps, possibly all the way back to “outdoor” football.
“Before I played here I knew all about Kurt Warner,” Coffman said. “The fans loved him and they have kept coming to games. If I get the opportunity to play in the NFL, that would be great. I’m not counting it out. But I play mostly for the love of the game. For a living, I can show up in shorts and a T-shirt and goof around with my teammates. It’s so much fun.”