DeKALB – It was just time.
Northern Illinois junior defensive end Jake Coffman has informed the NIU coaching staff that he will not return for his senior season.
The 25-year-old Marine Corps veteran who completed two tours in Iraq during his time in the Marines, and rose to the rank of corporal before walking on to NIU in 2006, will graduate in the spring with a degree in sociology.
"At the end of every year I evaluate myself, physically, mentally, and go from there," Coffman said. "After this year, I sat down with my family, trainers and coaches. It's the right time for me to walk away. It's just a personal decision. I'm leaving on a good note."
Coffman officially made up his mind when the Huskies returned from the International Bowl, but had doubts throughout the year about whether or not he would return for his senior season.
"His body and what it goes through, he gets worn out," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "It wasn't something that surprised us. He feels like it's his time."
Coffman had his best season as a Huskie in 2009, earning second-team All-MAC honors. He finished the season with 8.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and one interception return for a touchdown while playing defensive end and defensive tackle for the final six games of the regular season when Brian Lawson went down with a hand injury.
Physically, Coffman said there is nothing wrong with him at the present time and he still has a love for football. It's just that the gridiron chapter of his life is over now.
"I already miss the guys," he said. "That's the hardest thing, especially with some of the friends I've made."
The next chapter in Coffman's life starts with being named the 2009 Male Athlete of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, where he will be recognized at the organization's annual awards banquet on Feb. 6 in Columbus, Ohio.
After that, Coffman said there are several avenues he could pursue after graduation because of his degree and his football and Marine backgrounds.
One of those possible destinations is something he's had his eye on: working for the federal government in the Department of Homeland Security.
"I'm trying to get into a master's program in Homeland Security," Coffman said. "It would be nice to get into that and jump right into something with that."
The Huskies will miss the player who led them out onto the field this past season, carrying the American flag and anchoring one of the conference's top defenses. They'll miss him just as much off the field.
"He's why you coach. I'm certainly going to miss him," Kill said. "I'll miss him as a person. He's like a friend. He's a good guy. He's truly a good guy."