By Jeff Shearer
Shon Coleman knows as well as anyone what it's like to be wounded.
The former Auburn offensive lineman was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after signing in 2010, and spent three years undergoing treatment and regaining strength before becoming a two-year starter.
At this week's NFL Combine, Coleman is remembering those who have been wounded while defending their country.
Coleman and former Alabama offensive lineman Ryan Kelly will compete Thursday in the Eagle Fund's Bench Press Challenge, raising money for active duty members of the Special Operations community.
"I'm really excited for the Combine and the opportunity to give back to our Nation's heroes," said Coleman, who earned a bachelor's degree in Public Administration and a master's in Adult Education from Auburn.
"Seeing them train and working so hard to get back to defending our country has been inspiring. I'm thankful for all they do and I'm happy to support them by using part of my Combine performance to raise funds to provide more opportunities for them," he says.
Created in 2010, the fund supports injured military service men and women by providing training methods from EXOS, formerly Athletes Performance, and sports medicine from the Andrews Institute.
Former Auburn student LeAnn Lincoln oversees the Eagle Fund. Her husband, Alex, is a former Auburn linebacker. More than 650 Special Operations community members have rehabilitated at the facility in Gulf Breeze, Fla.
"To think that Shon wants to use the biggest job interview of his life as a platform to be able to help others is incredible," LeAnn says. "It definitely makes you proud to be an Auburn Tiger."
Donors can pledge an amount for each 225-pound rep, with the money going to the restricted account within the Andrews Research and Education Foundation.
"One hundred percent of the money donated goes directly to rehabbing and training a wounded warrior," Lincoln says.
The relationship between soon-to-be pro football players and military members develops while they spend weeks working out in the same facility in the Florida Panhandle.
"Every combine class that comes through, they train beside the Navy Seals and Green Berets," Lincoln says. "They'll build unique bonds, and this year we had several of the players who wanted to do something to give back, so that more guys could come through and experience the training that they get when they come through the combine training."
Adding an element of the Iron Bowl rivalry will only increase the intensity when Coleman and Kelly take their turns on the bench in Indianapolis.
"Shon and Ryan both have built bonds and they both wanted to do something to give back, so they agreed to do a friendly head-to-head challenge to raise money," Lincoln says. "Even though it's a challenge, they're still working together for a common goal.
"With these guys from the Special Operations community, and these high-level athletes, they all have the same mindset. They're all very driven. They're all working on a common goal, to get better, and to get back to what they do best. Just watching them between training sessions, sitting around talking, sharing stories. It's really interesting the bonds that have been built," she says. "And I think there will be friendships that will last a lifetime."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer