Jake Koffman (center) of Orono warms up with the Stanford University football team prior to a game in 2019. After starting his career as a discus thrower on the track and field team and having no prior experience, Koffman made the transition to football at the highest level of the college game. Credit: Courtesy of Stanford University athletics

Jake Koffman surely looked the part of a football player when he was a record-setting discus thrower at Orono High School.

Three years and 35 pounds later, Koffman not only took up the sport, but did so at college football’s highest level, the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Koffman didn’t see game action at offensive guard during his 1 1/2 years on the Stanford University football team, but his rapid growth was praised by those who have followed his progress most closely.

“Jake is a team player who embraces whatever role you put him in to make the team better,” said Kevin Carberry, Stanford’s run game coordinator and offensive line coach. “He is aggressive and he has his hands and his techniques right. As a former throws athlete, you can see his explosion and lower-body strength come alive on film. Jake has been a great addition to our room and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”

Jake Koffman of Orono poses for a photo shoot with the Stanford University football team. The former standout athlete, who first attended Stanford on a partial track and field scholarship, has spent the last year and a half competing for the Cardinal’s football team despite having no prior experience in the sport. Credit: Courtesy of Stanford University athletics

Jake Koffman’s transition from track and field, which drew him to Stanford, to a top-tier Pac-12 football program is rare. It is magnified by his complete lack of experience in the sport.

“It would have been fun to have a lot more experience and come in with more knowledge so the learning curve wasn’t so steep, but I don’t really think I have regrets,” said the 22-year-old Koffman, who is sidelined after suffering a high ankle sprain a month ago. “I loved the opportunity to learn a new sport and make some great lifelong friends.”

Maine players who have gone on to compete at the FBS level, even those committed to football, are few and far between.

Among them are Clay Cordasco of Cornish, who played at Sacopee Valley and was a three-year offensive line starter at Oregon from 2017-20. Nate Dingle of York was a standout defensive lineman at the University of Cincinnati from 1990-93.

Koffman had a storied interscholastic athletic career in Orono, but his fall preference was a different type of football.

“I grew up playing soccer and really loved the sport, and I was a basketball and track guy,” he said. “I just never played [football]. I never really got big until my junior and senior years, and soccer was still very, very fun for me.”

Koffman finished third in the discus at the 2016 New Balance Outdoor Nationals and took fourth as a senior at the 2017 U.S. junior championships. He also was a two-time New England outdoor discus champion and three-time state champ who broke his own state record with a best of 199 feet, 1 inch.

That led to Koffman’s selection as the 2017 Gatorade Maine Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year and a scholarship offer from Stanford.

He competed on the track team for two years, serving as a team captain as a sophomore in 2019.

“Going into my junior year I just felt like I was done with track,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t really improving and had lost that passion for it. There was a lot of practicing and very little competing.”

During the fall of 2019, Koffman found a new outlet, thanks in part to having several Stanford football players as roommates.

“I was honestly just enjoying the school life, but then there were seven season-ending injuries on the offensive line,” said Koffman, who is 6-foot-2, 262 pounds. “I had spoken to the football staff about possibly walking on, nothing super serious, but they needed people for practice so the coaches told my roommates, who told me, and I said I’d be interested in helping out.

“About a week later I had full pads on and was out there practicing.”

Koffman initially worked with the scout team to prepare Stanford for the next opponent, all while learning the intricacies of offensive line play.

“Jake’s growth has been exponential,” Carberry said. “He did a great job on the scout team last year, asked great questions and ultimately dressed for games and was ready to play if called on.”

Koffman’s development this year was tempered by the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, including whether Stanford and the rest of the major conferences would even have a football season.

The Pac-12 on Aug. 11 postponed fall sports competition, then reversed course on Sept. 24 and voted to proceed with football and winter sports.

The football team finally played its opener Nov. 7 at Oregon, then hosted Colorado a week later in a virtually empty Stanford Stadium.

Koffman was injured, but watched the game from the first row of the stands along with other sidelined players.

“It was definitely super strange,” Koffman said. “For the Colorado game, when they scored their first touchdown, it was like a guy was just running toward the end zone and there was no noise, no cheering, no booing whatsoever. It was almost surreal, like the play wasn’t actually happening.”

Neither Koffman nor the football team is on campus these days. He is back in Orono, as Stanford is between academic quarters, and he will study remotely when classes resume en route to graduating next spring.

Stanford (3-2) is in Santa Barbara, California, preparing for Saturday’s season finale at UCLA.

Koffman, a computer science major, has no plans to continue collegiate competition.

“I’m super grateful for organized sports and the opportunities they’ve given me, but at this point I’m pretty excited to be a normal person,” he said. “I’m excited to pick up athletic hobbies like rock climbing or just do the workouts that I want to do and have a little more freedom in my life.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...