BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – For very different reasons, Shon Coleman and Avery Young have been forced to be patient on launching their highly-awaited college careers.
Coleman verbally committed to Auburn in April 2009 as a high school junior in Olive Branch, Miss., but was diagnosed with leukemia the following spring and missed the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons recuperating.
He was cleared for limited practice last spring, but when he did not play last fall, the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility – thus settling him in as a redshirt freshman.
“I’m focused on making the team better,” Coleman said, “doing my part as a player and focusing now on what I need to do to improve.”
Meanwhile, Young banged up his shoulder leading into the 2012 season opener against Clemson. Tabbed the starter at right tackle as a true freshman, Young labored through three games of pain before shutting it down for the year and having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.
“It would have been dumb for me to end my career like that,” Young said. “I still have time.”
He’s not 100 percent healthy yet, but he’s assumed the backup right tackle position behind his buddy and last fall’s replacement, Patrick Miller.
“Give me another month and I’ll be all right – just to get my mind back and having confidence that I can go all-out with it,” Young said. “I’m taking everything slow, working toward that. There’s nothing I can’t do. I’m just trying to take caution and move forward with it.”
That’s ten recruiting stars and well over 600 pounds worth of tantalizing talent, working with the second unit in practice for new offensive line coach J.B. Grimes.
“He’s a fiery guy. He gets us to the level we’re supposed to be practicing at,” Coleman said. “He’s the same way, same guy every day. He just wants to get us upbeat. Wants to get the most out of us during practice so he’s always going to bring that (intensity) to practice.”
Young only played in the first three games last year, but he’s listed as a sophomore on Auburn’s official roster since NCAA rules dictate participation in more than 20 percent of a Division I squad’s season denies a medical redshirt. An Auburn spokesperson said the team is working on appealing for Young to gain back his fourth year of eligibility.
“I feel like I played real good – I could have played a lot better if I was healthy,” Young said in a self-assessment of his games vs. Clemson, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Monroe. “Based on what I could do, I felt like I played pretty good.”
Grimes and defensive line coach Rodney Garner have been particularly animated and agitated in short viewing windows of practice. That’s just fine with head coach Gus Malzahn.
“In this league, you win football games up front on the offensive and defensive lines,” Malzahn said. “Those two guys are as good as teachers as anybody in the game and they’re trying to get their standard and expectations down, so their guys will know what the expectations are.”
The offensive line starters have been fairly rigid through the first quarter of practices – Miller and Greg Robinson at tackle, Jordan Diamond and Chad Slade at guard and Reese Dismukes at center.
That doesn’t mean Coleman or Young can’t make their way onto the top line by September.
“It takes a little bit of time with the offensive line working together and we’re mixing and matching – moving some guys around,” Malzahn said. “But that’s natural. It does take a little bit of time for the guys up front to learn coach Grimes and his expectations.”