Aug 16, 2013
Shon Coleman says he wants to do his part to help his school win games (Todd Van Emst photo)
AUBURN, Ala. - Offensive tackle Shon Coleman signed with Auburn on the same day that, among others, Corey Lemonier, Jeff Whitaker, Ken Carter, Chris Davis, and Demetruce McNeal signed. That was back in February 2010.
Lemonier has already finished his Auburn career and moved on to the NFL The others are heading toward their final Auburn season.
Coleman is a redshirt freshman.
"I can barely even remember what year it was," Coleman said. "It's been a long time."
And it's been a journey neither Coleman nor his family could have imagined on that happy February day when he signed with the Tigers as a 5-star recruit out of Olive Branch (Miss.) High School and one of the top offensive linemen in the country.
In March, his life was turned upside down.
Coleman's doctor dismissed a lump on his head as likely nothing serious but did a biopsy anyway. A week later the results came back. The lump was malignant. Coleman and his family got the terrifying news that he had lymphoma. Tests at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis revealed he actually had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
That was, in a way, good news. He would have to undergo treatment, but the success rate for a young man of Coleman's age was high. There was plenty of reason to hope. But Coleman's football career was put on hold.
By January of 2011, Coleman was well enough to enroll at Auburn. In the spring of 2012, all signs of the cancer gone, he returned to the field for spring practice. The NCAA granted him a waiver for 2011 and he was redshirted in 2012.
He still thinks at times about what has happened in his life and probably always will. But he's a 6-foot-6, 306-pound offensive tackle playing for the school that embraced him in his time of despair and with friends that were there when he needed them most.
"Sure I think about it, but I've pretty much put it behind me," Coleman said. "I'm worried about making the team better and helping us have a great season this year. There are always things to work on. There are chances to get better every single day."
Coleman is working at both left tackle and right tackle. He's not likely to be a starter in the season-opener against Washington State. There was a time when that might have been a burden. Not now, not after how he got to where he is.
"There's nothing wrong with getting out there and playing," Coleman said, "but like I said, I'm worried about the team going out there and winning more than anything."
Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes says it would be a mistake to doubt that Coleman's time will come.
"He's going to be a great player," Grimes said. "No doubt. He gets better every day."
Coleman says Grimes has made a major impact on him on the field and off, in football and in life.
"I love Coach Grimes," Coleman said. "He's a guy that loves you on and off the field. The No. 1 thing with him is he wants you to get better as a player.
"... Coach Grimes is the best teaching coach in America, I think. He's really made us work on the little things that really matter."
Back in 2010, Coleman's goals were mostly about football, about getting to the NFL. Older and more mature, tempered by adversity, he looks at life differently now. His No. 1 goal, he says, is to earn an Auburn degree.
Coleman refused from the start to feel sorry for himself, to wonder why or how such a thing could happen to him.
"A lot of people have it much, much worse," Coleman said a year ago when he returned to practice. "I'm lucky. I'm blessed."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: