Oct. 30, 2013
Wide receiver Sammie Coates leads the nation in average yards per catch (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – In March of 2010, wide receiver Sammie Coates committed to sign with Southern Mississippi. As his senior season neared, he had no reason to believe his plans would change.
Then he went to Auburn for a summer camp.
Coates outran, outjumped and, in general, outplayed some of the more highly recruited defensive backs in the South. Auburn coaches learned what Danny Powell, his high school coach, already knew.
“He went to Auburn and ran about a 4.35 or something,” said Powell, now the head coach at Jackson High School. “He was catching it over highly recruited secondary guys in the end zone and everywhere else. They called him that night and offered him.”
Soon, Coates rescinded his commitment to Southern Mississippi and committed to Auburn. His hometown celebrated. He signed in February of 2011.
“Coming from a small school, many of us don't get that kind of chance,” Coates said. “It means a lot for my community.”
Coates is again showing the talent that made Auburn coaches sit up and take notice more than two years ago. A 6-foot-2, 177-pound freshman has become a 6-foot-3, 215-pound third-year sophomore with sprinter’s speed. He’s caught 21 passes for 536 yards and four touchdowns. He leads the nation with an average of 25.5 yards per catch. Had it not been for some untimely drops, one on a pass that would have gone for a 96-yard touchdown at Texas A&M, those numbers would be even more impressive.
When Dameyune Craig, who threw passes for Auburn two decades ago, joined first-year head coach Gus Malzahn’s staff as wide receivers coach, he quickly noticed Coates’ speed and athleticism. But he also saw much that needed to be done.
“You can’t go out there knowing you can bench press 350 pounds and run a 4.2 40 and think you are the best person on the football field,” Craig said. “He needed to humble himself. I would tell him ‘What would you do if you were a 4.6 guy? What would you do if you could only bench press 230 pounds? You’d take a different approach to the game.’ That’s what I’m trying to bring to the table for him. We want to humble ourselves and go out and work as if God didn’t give us all this ability.”
Coates, Craig says, has done that and more, and it shows on the field.
“Sammie has really worked to get to this point,” Craig said. “I’m really proud of Sammie because he has bought into what it takes to be an Auburn man, and he had to learn the hard way. He’s had his ups and downs, but we are just trying to reach his full potential. He’s on a steady course right now to accomplish his goals. We are really proud of him.”
Coates suffered a broken foot his first summer at Auburn and was redshirted. Last season, he caught just six passes for 114 yards. Craig, he says, inspired him to work harder and longer and to focus on details.
"He's been pounding that into my head how it'll help me become a better receiver," Coates said. "I've just been doing everything he says, listening to everything that comes out of his mouth."
Coates caught three passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns in last Saturday’s 45-10 victory over Florida Atlantic. He’ll try to continue that trend Saturday when the No. 8 Tigers (7-1, 3-1) play at
"They're trying to use me in different ways,” Coates said. “I'm just going to keep working hard so I can be that go-to guy. I just want to help the team win."
Even before Coates got to Leroy High School, Powell had noticed the tall, slender kid with breathtaking speed. As a sophomore, he helped lead Leroy to a state championship.
“You could tell it when he was a young kid,” Powell said. “He was long and very athletic. In his sophomore year, he had two or three real breakout games. You could tell then that he was going to be pretty special. He’s a great kid and a hard worker. When he comes home, everybody loves him.”
Coates’ future, Craig says, is bright. He has the skills it takes to play for a long time.
“I think he has a real chance,” Craig said. “That kind of speed is something you can’t teach. Being 6-3 and the way he runs, I think he’s going to get better and better.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: