100 in 100: Franklin County’s Tarik Cohen, The Human Joystick

The undersized N.C. A&T running back overcame the odds and is an explosive weapon for the Bears

Bunn’s Tarik Cohen dominated at NC A&T and was a fourth-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2017. (Paul Sancya / AP Photo)

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Franklin County

Tarik Cohen

As a high school freshman, Tarik Cohen told anyone who would listen that someday he would play in the NFL. Nobody really believed him, though, especially all the college coaches who thought that, at 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds soaking wet, he was far too small to play at the Division I level, let alone professionally.

Without any scholarship offers following a standout career at Bunn High School, Cohen seriously considered giving up on his dream and joining the Air Force until NC A&T’s Rod Broadway finally came along and showed some interest in him.


Broadway envisioned the undersized running back as a kick returner and a third-down speedster catching passes out of the backfield. But the Hall of Fame coach grossly underestimated what he had in his future star.

Tarik Cohen rushed for 5,619 yards and caught 98 passes for 945 yards in four years at N.C. A&T, totaling 59 touchdowns. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

“He’s not small, he’s just short,” Broadway said of Cohen, who eventually bulked up to 180 pounds. “There’s a distinct difference.”

It’s a difference that began to catch the attention of NFL scouts when Cohen posted a blistering 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the league’s pre-draft combine in 2017. While there were still concerns about his size, his other attributes helped him make good on his NFL prediction when the Chicago Bears took him in the fourth round with the 119th overall pick.

Three years into his pro career, Cohen has developed into one of the best all-purpose backs in the league. In 2017, he became only the second rookie since Gale Sayers in 1965 to score a rushing, passing, receiving and punt return touchdown in the same game. He earned All-Pro status as a returner in 2018 and has accounted for 15 touchdowns in his three NFL seasons.

“It feels good to come into the NFL and do what you want to do,” Cohen said. “You want to come in there, make plays for your team and be successful as a player. Just to do that is a tremendous feeling.”