Meet Kristin Coggin: The Mind Behind Nebraska’s Football Nutrition Program

LINCOLN, Neb. — When Marcus Satterfield joined Matt Rhule as Nebraska’s offensive coordinator 17 months ago, he told the new Huskers coach about a nutritionist he should try to hire. Instantly, Rhule’s curiosity jumped.

“Satt is one of those guys who just plays football,” Rhule said.

If Satterfield was talking about nutrition, Rhule thought he had discovered something special. So Rhule reached out to Kristin Coggin, who had spent the last six years at South Carolina – including the 2021 and ’22 seasons alongside Satterfield.

Drop by a morning scene this week at the new Osborne Legacy Complex. Nebraska football players filed in and out of Coggin’s office, located on a corner of the main intersection on the ground floor, next to a large fueling station between the gleaming weight room and the team’s headquarters. recovery.

At 33, Coggin, the Huskers’ director of performance nutrition, commands respect in her chair. The daughter of a dietitian and a retired U.S. Army major general, she’s paid like a boss, at $190,000 a year, and Nebraska apparently got her at a bargain price. Coggin is the best in her field, according to Rhule.

“She’s phenomenal,” he said. “That’s not hyperbole. She’s so good.

Coggin leads a team of five full-time nutritionists, including Chef Julian Franklin and Chef Jordan Eubanks. They work exclusively with the football program. Their task begins with creating specialized diet plans for each player on the roster. But there is much more.

“Not everyone is going to make it to the next level,” Coggin said. “Not everyone will need to train or run anymore. But they will still have to eat.

His team works to educate football players about nutrition. Athletes learn how to prepare food. Cooking demonstrations for visiting recruits serve as a preview of the players’ time in the program.

Coggin is known for arriving at work before 4 a.m. on mornings the Huskers practice.

“She’s amazing in that there’s no detail too big or too small,” Rhule said. “She has a personal relationship with all the players. She has a personal relationship with most of their families. She’s as passionate about what she does as Donovan Raiola is about O-line play, as Tony White is about tackling.

“I’ve never seen anyone like her working for me. I literally don’t have to worry about anything in this world. I don’t think you can find a player on this team and mention her name that wouldn’t say, “Oh, my God, that’s what she means.” »

Coggin also cares for the nutritional needs of Nebraska coaches and their families. When Rhule visited Scotland in March, Coggin asked him to text him photos of his meals. When a group of Muslim players were observing Ramadan, Coggin developed a food plan that fit their fasting schedules.

She pushes secondary coach Evan Cooper to just eat more food. She reminds Rhule to refuel between meals. Coggin understands the food allergies of everyone involved in the program.

“Relationships don’t stop when you leave the office,” Coggin said. “Nutrition never takes a break. We are constantly working on things to make this place even better.

Prior to Nebraska, Coggin spent six seasons as director of football nutrition at South Carolina and two years as performance nutrition coordinator at Alabama. (Mitch Sherman / The Athletics)

Shortly after Rhule received Satterfield’s recommendation, he brought Coggin to Lincoln for an interview. During that conversation, Coggin said he found that their visions and standards were aligned.

“It was like, ‘Wow, this man supports everything I am,’” Coggin said. “Why wouldn’t I want to work for him?” »

Rhule asked her what she would need to do her job better than anyone else in the country. Coggin took a pen and paper and wrote it for himself.

The complexity and cost of his plan stunned Rhule, not to mention the commitment to carrying it out. But he appreciated Coggin’s frankness and confidence.

Rhule forwarded the request to athletic director Trev Alberts.

“I was nervous about going up there,” Rhule said. “But to Trev’s credit, he did it.”

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Coggin discovered ambition along his path to Nebraska through his mentors in the nutrition and food field. Born and raised in Pulaski, Tennessee, she attended Tennessee – where her father and brother went to school – and was a member of the rowing team.

This sport was new to her. But she got a scholarship after one semester. When she was diagnosed with celiac disease and treated for the autoimmune disease triggered by the body’s reaction to gluten, her athletic performance jumped.

She began her college studies in engineering and later applied to dental school. But Coggin found her calling in athletics after working with Allison Maurer, a sports nutritionist in Tennessee.

Coggin earned a degree in psychology and another in nutrition. A dietetic internship in California followed. She worked with respected nutritionist Becci Twombley at USC. Coggin’s first full-time job at Alabama in 2015 put her in contact with Amy Bragg, who was instrumental in NCAA reform that allowed nutritionists to work in sync with student-athletes to create dietary plans personalized.

In 2017, Coggin left Alabama to run his own program at South Carolina.

Along the way, she observed former Tennessee basketball coaching legend Pat Summit and worked with a list of coaches that included Lane Kiffin, Butch Jones, Steve Sarkisian, Will Muschamp, Shane Beamer, Avery Johnson, Dawn Staley, Frank Martin and Nick Saban.

“If you want to be the best,” she said, “you have to work with the best.” »

As much as the coaches had an impact on Coggin, the relationships with the players resonated more deeply. His list of favorites includes Alabama’s Raekwon Davis and the Gamecocks’ Deebo Samuel, Javon Kinlaw, DJ Wonnum, Jaycee Horn, MarShawn Lloyd and Xavier Legette, selected last month in the first round of the NFL draft.

Many of Coggin’s former players remain in contact with her. The same type of connections flourish in Nebraska.

“She opens doors for the guys on our team to discover aspects of their lives that some of them may not have known about,” Rhule said.

For example, Coggin said she expects defensive lineman Elijah Jeudy to draw on his experience at Nebraska to work as a leader.

This spring, under Coggin’s leadership, Nebraska held 11 cooking demonstrations for its football players and two “Chopped” competitions, simulating the Food Network show in which individuals are given a basket of ingredients and work to create some. something tasty.

Early this summer, Nebraska’s new practice table on the second level of the Osborne Complex will open. It’s there to serve all student-athletes – not just football players – and it will include an expanded demonstration kitchen in addition to numerous upgrades to existing facilities.

Food consumption is serious business for Division I athletes. Any way Coggin can make it fun and educational, she will. But she’s also as tough as any coach on the staff.

“I tell players all the time,” Coggin said, “don’t think I won’t call your mom.”

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On a normal practice day, Coggin’s recommended breakfast for an average Nebraska player includes five or six eggs, three or four pancakes, bacon, fruit and yogurt. After training, it’s time to drink a 900-calorie protein shake, and then she wants them to eat every two hours again, from 12:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Its staff also monitors water consumption. For each player, one gallon per day, plus sports drinks containing electrolytes, is the minimum.

“It gets repetitive,” Coggin said. “They eat a ton of food. Some people are tired of eating. And it looks different for each of them. But they must be consistent.

For a picky eater like Riley Van Poppel, this can be a challenge. He’s a 280-pound defensive lineman who would like to add another 10-20 pounds during his college career. Van Poppel arrived at Nebraska a year ago weighing about 270 pounds.

He lost a few pounds playing like a true freshman. So now he’s making progress.

“I’m a simple guy,” he says. “In sandwiches, I like meat and cheese, not much else. Same with my burgers. I could eat steak and potatoes all day. My biggest problem is with green vegetables, and trying to gain weight but also lose body fat.

Coggin asked him to do something Van Poppel’s mother couldn’t do: mix spinach into his post-workout shakes.

Alecia Van Poppel is amazed by Coggin’s work with Riley. In 18 years at home, she had difficulty getting him to taste a vegetable.

“I’m like, ‘What?'” Alecia Van Poppel said. “‘He eats green vegetables?’ She makes him eat broccoli and teaches him the leaner side of food? I like this.”

Riley’s older siblings played volleyball and baseball at smaller colleges. The idea of ​​sending Riley to a major football program scared his mother. She was afraid he would get lost in the shuffle.

“Who will take care of him?” she says. “But once I met Coach Rhule and his staff, it made me feel so comfortable. He answered some very honest questions I asked him about those situations a mom thinks about. Where does he turn?

“So I felt comforted in that way.” And I continue to be comforted by communication.

Coggin tries to attend every meal served during recruiting visits. Her message to parents when she meets them: “We really care about these children. It’s scary to leave them, but we’re going to teach them some skills. And then I’m like (his) mother far from home.

Coggin’s office in the new complex is close to Corey Campbell and Mitch Cholewinski in strength, conditioning and sports science. They meet at least once a week and share data on each player, often involving sports medicine, sports psychology and player development in the conversations.

Riley Van Poppel said he was amazed by Coggin’s dedication to the Huskers’ nutrition.

“I think she’s amazing,” Van Poppel said, “her and her team as well. It’s hard for me to eat what I need, but they always recommend new things. They’ll sit down with me and plan a weekend away. And (Coggin) is still there.

“Even if you don’t want her to be there, she’s there.”

(Top photo: Mitch Sherman / Athleticism)