BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — Shon Coleman admits he occasionally lets himself reflect on the past three years of his life.
How could he not? A lot has happened during that time, after all. He signed with Auburn as one of the most-highly recruited offensive tackle prospects in the country in the class of 2010 and then became a non-entity, sidelined while fighting against a form of cancer known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The cancer went into remission just weeks after starting chemotherapy treatments in April 2010, and he continued to receive weekly injections following that diagnosis to ensure it wouldn’t return. It never did.
His return to the field came much later, though, as Coleman was finally cleared to practice with the Tigers in April 2012, working back into form ever since.
It’s the versatility and natural ability he showed during his high school career that has him on the verge of breaking into Auburn’s two-deep depth chart, likely the first in line to play whenever starting left tackle Greg Robinson needs a breather this fall.
“I feel comfortable on both sides, really,” he said. “I pretty much got so used to both sides that I can switch up and have everything down pat.”
Moving from side-to-side on the line doesn’t bother Coleman. In fact, he rather enjoys the challenge.
“I like it,” he said. “Being able to know both positions will only make me a better player.”
Coleman will have four more years as a Tiger to develop his skills after the NCAA awarded him another season of eligibility this spring. But that also means the same players he graduated with in 2010 are entering their senior seasons in college. Coleman acknowledged it was a strange feeling, noting he could “barely remember what year” he joined the Tigers.
His class standing has no bearing on how teammates view him, though.
“I don’t get the ‘freshman treatment’ — at least I don’t think I do,” he said. (That) stopped last year when I started playing.”
And competing now is more fun than it’s ever been, Coleman said, thanks to head coach Gus Malzahn.
“His offense is one of the greatest things that’s probably ever happened here,” he said. “I’m really supportive of that. The whole team is supportive. We’re ready to go out there and win.”
When Malzahn was hired, he brought in J.B. Grimes to lead the offensive line. Coleman attributed all the improvements within the unit and in his own game to the fiery Arkansas native’s tutelage.
“Coach Grimes is a really good coach,” Coleman said. “He’s the best teaching coach in America. He’s made us work on the little things that matter.”
His compliments paled in comparison to Grimes’ view of Coleman. A 30-year coaching veteran, Grimes has seen a lot of great offensive linemen over the years at Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, among others. Few have had Coleman’s gifts, Grimes said, specifically the long arms that help him recover even after taking a bad step.
Coaching has nothing to do with it.
“When they can take that bad step or a guy gives them a head move inside and they bite on it and then they go back outside, but he’s still long enough to get that outside hand on him, that’s God,” Grimes said. “God has taken over there. That ain’t coaching. That’s the good Lord giving a guy the ability to do some things that a normal human being can’t do. I really believe Shon Coleman is one of those guys.”
Coleman doesn’t mind Grimes bragging on him. He just knows his talent alone won’t merit playing time. Accolades are irrelevant once the ball is snapped. Coleman’s words resonate more than it would from others his age, of course.
It’s a perspective forged through his off-field adversity.
“I try not to get caught up in (praise),” he said. “Whatever is said, it doesn’t really matter. I just try to go out there and just get better every day.”