Coley tackles history of targeting head on
He felt bad the first time and worse the second.
Arkansas Razorbacks safety De’Andre Coley was flagged twice last season for targeting. He was ejected both times, and while by the letter of the rule he was wrong, neither time was intentional.
Neither time determined the outcome of the game.
Then a junior at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the Miami native’s biggest mistake was he didn’t play the ball. He never saw it.
Against Ole Miss when he slobber-knocked receiver Van Jefferson, the Razorbacks went on to a 34-30 victory.
On an incomplete pass against Texas A&M, Coley nailed receiver Speedy Noil on a third and 7 to give the Aggies a first down, but they WALLY HALL
already were on their way to a 45-24 victory.
Coley, who is slated to start at one of the safety spots, has always been a big hitter.
His hit on Alabama’s Joshua Jacobs forced a fumble last season, but his reckless abandon and willingness to create havoc go back to when he was a kid.
“When I was younger, some of my teammates would ask me not to hit so hard in practice,” he said Saturday, sitting in front of his locker on the row reserved for seniors.
Coley, who already has graduated, was signed by then-linebackers coach Randy Shannon, the former Miami Hurricanes head coach. He redshirted his first season and has made strides as a defensive back ever since.
He saw action in 11 games as a redshirt freshman, all 13 games as a sophomore, and last season he started six. That total might have been more, but those targeting penalties twice required he sit out the first half of the next game.
He had 37 tackles, forced 2 fumbles and recovered 2 last season, but he said he knows he’s remembered for the plays against the Rebels and the Aggies, which he’s not proud of.
“I hated it then and I hate it now,” he said. “Coach B [Bret Bielema] told me I have to play smarter. I’ve worked really hard since last year to learn to play the ball better.
“I’ve watched hours of films. I can tell a difference on the practice field now. It is easier for me to play the ball.”
Those hours included watching the plays that drew the flags and understanding exactly what he did wrong, but Coley also has worked to keep the balance he needs to remain competitive.
“I can’t quit being aggressive,” he said. “That’s just not in me.”
At 6-1 and 211 pounds, he has track speed. In high school he ran the second leg of the 400-meter relay. He was fast enough that TCU, which recruits speed at almost every position, offered him a scholarship.
Miami Northwestern, his high school, is a powerhouse and has had several games televised by ESPN.
Shannon’s allure was enough to get him to Arkansas, and Coley has mostly done very well, but from a young age both of his parents — Matthew Spikes and Yvonne Coley — told him the same thing.
“They said on the field, I have no friends,” he said. “I was told that at an early age, and I do what my parents tell me. They also said when I leave the field to leave the aggressive play behind.”
Last season, Coley was supposed to sit out the first half of the Auburn game, but he instead missed it when he hurt his ankle walking to practice. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was walking while talking on his phone, and he stepped in a pothole.
He was talking to his mother.
“A lot of people who saw those hits might think the wrong things about me, and I’m going to prove those people were wrong,” he said.
Coley was uncomfortable talking about the two plays that he’s remembered for last season, but he didn’t dodge the bullet, just as he doesn’t dodge anything or anyone on the field.