Tarik Cohen is a YouTube star, a prolific running back who loves the challenge of being 5-6 in a big-man’s game, corrects his own grammar and made such an impact at North Carolina A&T, the school named its Male Athlete of the Year Award after him after he won it for the third consecutive year.
He’s got an awesome nickname — “The Human Joystick” — but it’s not his favorite.
“That’s what stuck and everybody seemed to like it,” said Cohen, whom the Bears selected in the fourth round (119th overall) of the NFL Draft on Saturday. “Somebody on ESPN had called me “Chicken Salad.” I really prefer that. But I don’t think it’s bad being the joystick. I like it, too.”
Cohen doesn’t even know what “Chicken Salad” means. “But I just like it,” he said.
Though he is from a small school, Cohen is not without renown. He was a YouTube sensation two years ago when a video of him catching a football in each hand while doing a back-flip went viral.
“It started because I had seen somebody else do it first,” Cohen said. “We were bored in the summer after conditioning so we just decided to go out and try it. The first two times, I think I failed. The third time I got it pretty naturally, and that’s when I really got the hang of it because I stopped being scared and just started doing it.
“I was competing with somebody else at a different school and he did it too. So I had to one-up him. That’s when I did one hand — when social media got a hold of that it got crazy. Then I had to one-up myself because everyone was asking what’s next, so then I did the two balls at the same time. Social media got a hold of that and Instagram went crazy.”
Cohen seems to enjoy being a little different, especially when it come to his size. At 5-6, he’s not one who has alway wished he was bigger. On the contrary, he relishes his ability to use his size to make defenses look silly chasing him downfield.
“I think it will play a key role in helping me,” said Cohen, who is listed at 179 pounds, “because the linemen are going to be bigger, so it’s really going to be hard to see me behind my linemen and I can use that to my advantage.”
There’s no doubt the diminutive Cohen has made the most of what he’s got. He rushed for 5,619 yards and 56 touchdowns in four seasons at North Carolina A&T — gaining 1,148 yards as a freshman, 1,340 as a sophomore, 1,543 as a junior and 1,588 as a senior in 2016. He never averaged less than 5.8 yards per carry in any season. He also caught three touchdown passes and threw two — accounting for 61 touchdowns in a prolific career.
The Bears are relatively set at running back with Jordan Howard coming off a 1,313-yard season a a rookie and Jeremy Langford likely in the back-up role. But Cohen could presents a different dimension as a Darren Sproles style of change-of-pace back.
Cohen has speed — he ran a 4.42 40 at the Comine. But his forte is his quickness and cut-back ability that allows him to turn on those jets for big plays. He had the fastest 10-yard time (1.47 seconds) at the Combine — better than even Sproles impressive 10-yard time (1.55) at the 2005 Combine.
“I just look for defenses being too aggressive and when a defender is too aggressive he really leaves himself vulnerable for the cut-back,” Cohen said. “And then, knowing I’m a shifty back and I have speed, defenses really want to get to that point before I can get to that point. That’s when they get really over-aggressive and that sets me up for the perfect cut-back.”
But he might need to be at the right place at the right time to succeed in the NFL.
“I’m expecting it to be a pretty noticeable jump,” he said. “But I don’t feel like I’ve reached my potential yet in terms of being an athlete. I feel I can definitely get in better shape as far as muscles. I can definitely get the mental aspect of the game down pat more. I’m just ready to see where I can be and how I can compete on the next level.