No one has to tell Fordham’s Jonte Coven that things don’t always go according to plan: he’s living proof.
After being selected Patriot League Rookie of the Year as a freshman in 2004, big things were expected for the now senior running back and Stone Mountain, Ga., native. But those plans became a little cloudy his sophomore and junior years, when he served as the backup to Jamal Hunte and James Prydatko
“I knew that the situation was I would back-up Jamal and James my sophomore and junior years and I didn’t mind it,” said Coven. “I was willing to do whatever the team needed me to do in order to win.”
But as the losses mounted for the Rams, Coven yearned for more playing time.
“It was hard watching the team lose from the sidelines,” Coven said. “I wanted to be on the field as much as possible and try to help them turn things around.”
Right before the season opener, Coven endured a bigger loss than any game when his grandfather, Walter Coven Sr., passed away in Georgia. After missing a week of camp to attend the funeral, he returned just in time for the game against the University of Rhode Island. But it was a bittersweet season-opener for Coven, who was named the starting running back.
“My grandfather was like a father to me,” said Coven. “He was the only adult male figure in my life growing up and he taught me everything I know. He really didn’t get a chance to see me play much up here so I’m dedicating this season to him.”
Playing with a heavy heart in the Rhode Island game, Coven rushed for a then career-high 119 yards and two touchdowns to lead Fordham to a 27-23 win. He followed that up two games later with a career-best 139 rushing yards in the Liberty Cup win over Columbia University and then he outdid that with 152 rushing yards at Georgetown University on Oct. 13.
On the year, Coven is averaging 88 rushing yards per game, second best in the Patriot League, and is gaining 5 yards per carry.
When opponents take a quick look at the 5’ 9”, 175-pound Coven, they think they’re facing a back that shies away from contact. But once the game starts, they realize that Coven is just as quick to run between the tackles as he is to make a linebacker miss a tackle.
“My strength is in my legs,” Coven said. “I get all my power from my legs, which helps me gain yards after I get hit. But there’s nothing I’d rather do than make people miss when they try to tackle me. I like to think of my game as a combination of Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.”
Arriving at Fordham after graduating from Stephenson High School, where he lettered with the football, baseball and track teams, Coven brought along an impressive list of accomplishments. He capped his high school career earning Honorable Mention Class AAAAA All-State honors by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and he holds the Stephenson school record for most carries (42) and yards (287) in a game.
Coven burst on to the scene as a freshman, rushing 52 times for 223 yards and being named Patriot League Rookie of the Week three times en route to his Rookie of the Year honor.
As a sophomore in 2005, Coven appeared in all eleven games for the Rams, rushing 44 times for 196 yards and two touchdowns while also catching 12 passes for 73 yards. He was second on the depth chart behind Prydatko, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards that season.
Coven was again listed as the backup entering the fall of 2006, but an injury to Prydatko gave Coven a chance to start three games. He finished the year with 272 yards on 60 carries, ranking third on the team in rushing.
This fall, Coven is benefiting from a healthy and experienced set of offensive linemen, an advantage that he didn’t have the past two years. Leading the way for Coven are senior center Mike Breznicky, senior guard Mike Nardone, junior tackle Justin Sarabaez, sophomore guard Robby Reis and sophomore tackle Andrew Tyshovnytsky, who have started every game so far in 2007.
“Last year, the line was young and banged up,” said Coven. “But this year they have more experience and seem to be gelling as a unit. And that makes it much easier for me.”
As the senior member of the running back corps, Coven has also taken on the role of mentor to the younger guys, helping freshmen Quasand Lewis, Nnamdi Onyeabor, Xavier Martin and Darryl Robinson with the difficult transition from high school to college football.
Perhaps these young Rams learn one important lesson from Coven: Things don’t always go according to plan, but in the end, it all works out.