Chase Coffman grew up attending Kansas City Chiefs games with his family to watch Tony Gonzalez play. To see Gonzalez now, Coffman just goes to practice.
“We grew up having season tickets to the Chiefs games,” said Coffman, Atlanta Falcons tight end. “Tony was one of my favorite players growing up, and someone who I kind of wanted to emulate my game after and be like whenever I got to this level.”
Coffman comes from NFL pedigree. His father Paul Coffman played tight end in the NFL from 1977-88—eight seasons in Green Bay, two seasons in Kansas City, and one season in Minnesota—and is now a member of the Packers Hall of Fame.
Chase and his two younger brothers followed suit. Cameron Coffman, 21, currently plays quarterback for the Indiana Hoosiers. Carson Coffman, 24, played quarterback for Kansas State from 2007-2010 and just finished the Arena Football League season with the Chicago Rush.
Football has bonded the Coffman boys from the beginning.
“Being the oldest brother in the family, we all kind of look up to him and want to be like him.” said Cameron Coffman. “I think it all started with my dad, though. We all wanted to follow his footsteps and play in the NFL from a young age.”
Paul wouldn’t let the boys play football until they reached the fifth grade, though, to prevent them from burning out too quickly or developing bad habits, Cameron says, but once Chase, Carson and Cameron were allowed to play football, they never looked back.
Chase has led the Coffman charge.
Coffman didn’t start his NFL career off on the best foot. In fact, he started off by breaking his foot in the Alamo Bowl as a Missouri Tiger just before declaring for the 2009 NFL Draft, which he describes as the low point of his four-year NFL career.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Coffman in the third round of the NFL Draft, 98th overall, in 2009. After spending two seasons in Cincinnati, Coffman landed briefly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 but was cut before the first preseason game.
By November of last season, Coffman found his way in Atlanta.
Entering this season, his first full season as a Falcon, Coffman is probing his teammates and priming to positively contribute as another proton in one of the league’s most electrifying offenses. Going to work day-in and day-out with the star power surrounding him—quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, running back Steven Jackson and tight end Gonzalez—is helping Coffman learn how to be a pro’s pro.
As an understudy to 16-year NFL veteran Gonzalez, Coffman is taking note of the little things Gonzalez does and peppering them all into his own game: keeping a strict diet, taking on extra sets in the weight room or catching extra passes after practice, and knowing how to make the best out of every situation—even if the situation calls for something different than what’s on paper.
“If that means going the full length of the route, you’re gonna do it. If you need to break [the route] a little bit early, you’re gonna do it,” Coffman said.
The two Falcons who know Coffman best, though, are on the defensive side of the ball. Like Coffman, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and safety William Moore attended Missouri. All three played on the same Tigers teams from 2006 to 2009. An Atlanta reunion has helped Coffman feel right at home.
“It’s awesome,” Coffman said. “It’s good to have those guys around. Since the day I got here, they’ve been cheering me on whenever I make a play in practice, or something like that, whatever it may be.”
Coffman had more opportunities to make plays during the Falcons practice by virtue of Gonzalez’s excused absence from the team’s training camp this offseason. He took advantage of that time by improving his balance and blocking technique.
Looking toward this season, which begins for the Falcons Sunday in New Orleans, Coffman hopes to continue to play to his strengths because of the type of offense Atlanta runs.
“It’s an offense that’s a lot more friendly to a receiving tight end because Tony’s here,” Coffman said. “That’s my strength and that’s been my strength.”
One of the two receptions made by Coffman last season was his favorite reception of his career. It came in the NFC Divisional playoff game against Seattle. Coffman tiptoed the sideline at the one-yard line. Ryan hit Gonzalez for the touchdown on the ensuing play, giving the Falcons an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
After Coffman's catch, Gonzalez told him good job.
The Falcons would go on to beat the Seahawks 30-28, awarding both Gonzalez and Coffman with their first playoff win of their careers.
“It’s nice to be a part of that,” said Coffman. “And shoot, for me, too. That was my first playoff win. So, it’s awesome to be able to get that first playoff win before having to play 16 years in the NFL.”
That’s not to say that Coffman doesn’t want to play 16 seasons in the NFL. He does. He makes that clear— just like Tony Gonzalez.
“I want a successful NFL career,” Coffman said. “To be able to say that I played at the highest level, at a high level of play, and help my team win.
“So, really, just to get that opportunity to put myself into a situation when Tony does retire, or God forbid something happened, that they could call on me to go in there and be able to make the same plays that he did without our offense skipping a beat.”
All quotes were obtained firsthand in a phone interview by the reporter. You can follow Megan on Twitter at @meganKarmstrong.