Former Polk County scholar/athlete getting unique opportunity
by JOE CANNON Assistant Sports Editor
Jun 09, 2013 | 644 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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A little bit of hesitation may have cost Duncan Coffey one opportunity, but opened the door for what may turn out to be an even better situation for the two-sport Polk County athlete and elite academic student.

“I had planned on going to the Naval Academy, but got some of my paperwork in too late, so I missed the deadline,” he explained. “That caused me to look at another opportunity I had. The more I looked, the more I liked what I saw.”

Coffey will be leaving July 2 for the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.

The USMMA is one of five federal service academies, along with the U.S. Military Academy (West Point, N.Y.), the U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis, Md.), the U.S. Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (New London, Conn.).

“I went to a baseball camp at the Naval Academy last summer and the coach from the Merchant Marine Academy was there and talked to me,” Coffey related. “I sort of put that aside, but when I was late with my paperwork for the Naval Academy, I got back ahold of him and he still wanted me.”

Like the other service academies, Coffey needed a Congressional appointment to go to the USMMA, which Tennessee 3rd District Congressman Chuck Fleischmann gladly sponsored.

While the other four military academies are tied to a particular service branch, the Merchant Marine Academy provides Coffey not only a highly-regarded Bachelor of Science degree and a Coast Guard license, but he will also have his choice of being a commissioned officer in any of the U.S. Armed Forces branches, or he can go to work for the United States maritime industry, while serving in any reserve unit of the armed forces.

“It (going to the USMMA) actually gives me more options after I get my degree,” Coffey expressed. “My grandfather and an uncle were in the military. I’ve always had a military interest growing up, so going this direction is something that will allow me to continue to play baseball while I pursue that.”

A standout on the diamond and the gridiron for the Wildcats, Coffey excels academically as well, recently graduating with a 4.0 grade point average and class salutatorian honors.

“The top 20 in our class were separated by just tenths of a point,” he related. “I’ve always worked hard to keep my grades up.”

According to Polk baseball coach Michael Carter, “working hard” is a common thread in everything Coffey does. “He’s a great kid and will do well in whatever he does. This (USMMA) is a neat deal. I’m glad to see him getting this kind of opportunity.”

“He is a great combination — physically put together and mentally strong,” the baseball mentor assessed. “He pitched in pain throughout the season, but he wanted the ball every chance he could get it. Against Meigs County (in the District 5-AA Tournament), he wanted the ball on one day’s rest because he knew how important the game was. He’s a competitor. He does what you ask of him.”

Polk County football coach Derrick Davis echoed Carter’s sentiment. “Duncan comes from a very good family that has raised him right. He has all the qualities you hope to have in a leader on your team — work ethic, dependability and I never had an ounce of trouble out of him.”

A three-year starter for the Big Red Train gridiron squad that didn’t lose a District 5-AA game during his four-year career, Coffey suffered a broken collar bone in a motorcycle accident and missed the final four games of the 2012 season.

“We were 6-1 when he got hurt. The kids continued to play hard, but we really missed him. He was a big part of our success the past three years,” coach Davis praised. “He’s the type of kid that’s going to finish what he starts. They (USMMA) got a good one.”

At 6-foot, 200-pounds, Coffey played several positions on the football field, including quarterback, running back, receiver, outside linebacker and defensive back. “He was really a running back on offense that we had to move to quarterback this past season,” Davis related. “He was so versatile, he could help out in several positions and play them well.”

Although Polk was a run-first team behind power ball carrier Zach Miller, in the seven games he got to play this past season Coffey completed 16-of-26 passes for 296 yards and four touchdowns, plus carried the ball 48 times for 123 yards and two more scores. He also found paydirt on a trick 50-yard punt return against Chattanooga Central. Coffey also caught four passes for 26 yards and a TD.

On the diamond, Coffey played third base when not on the mound, batting .333 with seven doubles, three home runs, 23 RBI and 25 runs scored. On the bump he was just 5-4 with a 4,41 ERA, but he struck out 40 and walked just nine in 39 innings pitched.

“He was throwing with a hurt shoulder (from the motorcycle accident) all season,” coach Carter confessed. “He wasn’t 100 percent, but he gave it all he had. He never once thought of not playing.”

“I have really enjoyed playing at Polk County,” Coffey commented. “I’ve learned a lot about discipline and team concepts from my coaches. I’ve also really enjoyed the friendships I have with my teammates.”

As for making the adjustment from Ocoee to the nation’s largest city, Coffey is confident he’ll be able to handle the transition. “The academy only has 1,200 (midshipmen) and we won’t be allowed to leave the base too often.”

Kings Point is located on the Long Island Sound, an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, separating Long Island from the mainland. Kings Point is near the New York City borough of Queens and across the water from the Bronx.

“I’ve never been north of Annapolis (during last summer’s baseball camp in Maryland) and the only time I’ve been on the ocean is when I went deep sea fishing a couple of times,” Coffey related. “It will be different than anything I’ve ever done, but that is part of what makes it exciting.”

While he will go through a couple weeks of “basic training” indoctrination to begin with, Coffey will get into his classes in August and will also be working with the USMMA baseball team.

Playing on the NCAA Division III level in the Landmark Conference, the Mariners baseball squad went 20-17 this spring for their second straight 20-win season.

Known for its rigorous academic program, USMMA requires more credit hours for a baccalaureate degree than any other federal service academy. The challenging coursework is augmented by the Academy’s Sea year experience, which affords midshipmen the opportunity to acquire hands-on, real-world experiences aboard working commercial vessels sailing to ports around the world.

“In my second year I will have 100 sea days and more than 300 my third year,” Coffey explained. “I will be going into ports in 18 different countries during that time of training.”

According to the USMMA website, “The merchant fleet of efficient and productive commercial ships owned by U.S. companies and registered and operated under the American flag, forms an essential part of our domestic and international transportation system.

“In time of war or national emergency, the U.S. Merchant Marine becomes vital to national security as a ‘fourth arm of defense.’ Our merchant ships bear the brunt of delivering military troops, supplies and equipment overseas to our forces and allies operating as an auxiliary unit to the Navy. The stark lessons of the twenty first century conflicts again prove that a strong merchant marine is an essential part of American security and sea power.

“The United States imports approximately 85 percent of some 77 strategic commodities critical to America's industry and defense. Although we, as a nation, account for only six percent of the world population, we purchase nearly a third of the world's output of raw materials. Ninety-nine percent of these materials are transported by merchant vessels.”

Upon graduation, Coffey can choose to work five years in the United States maritime industry with eight years of service as an officer in any reserve unit of the armed forces or five years active duty in any of the nation’s armed forces.