AUBURN, Ala. — Nick Coe knows how to turn heads during Auburn football practice.
The North Carolina native stands tall on the Auburn defensive line at 6-foot-6. He practiced with the second-team defense as a freshman, despite the fact he was redshirting. But the moment that perhaps drew the most attention was the practice last fall when he got his nickname — “Pickle.”
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“(Coe) came from a school that he said that had a water hose at break,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “And of course now you know (Auburn gives players) Gatorade and popsicles, it’s like a smorgasbord out there during (hydration) break in fall camp. You know, they give them pickles, for obvious reasons. He was so taken aback by the fact that he wasn’t drinking out of a water hose.
“I think he ate about eight pickles one break, and he enjoyed them… and everybody was watching him eat them. And so from then on his name was Pickle.”
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Coe’s frame, background and appetite at practice all make him a unique presence for the Tigers defensive line. Then there’s Coe’s skill set, which has prompted his coaches to rave about him during spring practice.
“Nick Coe is a very talented young man,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “God was good to him. He’s long. He can bend, he has great knee flex, ankle flex and hip flex. He can burst. He’s just a very, very talented guy that has to continue to develop the intensity of what it takes to perform at a high level in this conference.”
Coe brings a different level of power to the edge of Auburn’s defensive line. The redshirt freshman is the sole scholarship player repping with sophomore Marlon Davidson at the standard defensive end position.
That strength comes from Coe’s background — not just on the football field but on the wrestling mat. Coe won two high school wrestling national championships during his days in Asheboro, N.C.
“Obviously with the wrestling and being the heavyweight national champion and all that, he has a great power base,” Garner said. “He’s very explosive.”
Despite a late enrollment at Auburn last August, Coe played a key role in practices. Instead of working on the scout team like most redshirting players, he rotated with the reserves. Steele said Tuesday night Coe was “very close” to playing as a late-arriving true freshman.
This spring, Auburn hasn’t held Coe back.
“I think the biggest thing is just getting out there and playing in an environment where we tackle sometime and there is a result to the play… where you actually get in situations where you tackle and run to the football and it means something,” Steele said. “I think you can see he’s got a skill set.”
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Coe’s physical gifts earn high praise from Garner, who said he had “great promise.” However, the veteran defensive line coach wants to see him flip a certain switch in his offseason preparation.
“I don’t know that the emphasis on football where he came from is to the level that it is here,” Garner said. “I still think there are some shocks as to how serious it is, every little thing. And I don’t think he gets that all the time.”
Auburn hopes Coe responds to that call, especially in 2017. The Tigers must replace the production of Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams — two athletic defensive linemen who paved the way for the next wave of talent in the trenches.
Just like his size and pickle count at practices, Garner sees Coe’s ceiling rising higher and higher this offseason.
“Once he figures it out, I just think the kid has the skill set to be a special guy,” Garner said.