Auburn football's Shon Coleman ready to start after bout with leukemia
AUBURN, Ala. -- Shon Coleman always believed that one day he would start for Auburn, even when he went from college-bound recruit to cancer patient as a high school senior.
His time has finally come.
Coleman will be the Tigers' starting left tackle Saturday against Arkansas and get a chance to show why he was one of the nation's top prospects before being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the spring of 2010.
"I never doubted it," Coleman said. "Faith, that's been one of the biggest things that's just kept striving me forward, with my family, and just working hard. Where I'm from in Memphis, you really don't see a lot of people even get to college or the spot that I'm in. My hometown really showed me that you have to work hard for anything that you want or desire."
The obstacles already overcome should make replacing No. 2 NFL draft pick Greg Robinson seem less daunting.
Coleman stepped onto the field for the first time late against Arkansas State last season and played in six more games, including the BCS championship against Florida State. Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes said Coleman was feeling his way last season after being sidelined for three years but has gotten more comfortable.
"The kid's loaded with ability. Loaded," Grimes said. "He's got a lot of ability. I can coach those type guys."
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Coleman is protecting the quarterback's blind side on an offensive line that figures to be one of the team's strengths even with Robinson gone and guard Alex Kozan out for the season after back surgery.
Center Reese Dismukes has logged 37 starts, one more than guard Chad Slade. No other SEC lineman has logged that many.
Coleman is the biggest wild card because he's replacing one of the nation's top linemen, now a rookie with the St. Louis Rams.
While Coleman's performance on the field is the main focus, his coaches and teammates don't forget what he has endured along the way.
"You see all he's been through and he's never given up, you know you don't have any right to give up," said Slade, Coleman's roommate. "It inspires you to go harder each and every play."
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was offensive coordinator when Coleman was being recruited. The Tigers kept his scholarship open until Coleman could enroll in school in January 2011, and Malzahn said he pulls "for a guy like that."
"It's real special for me personally," Malzahn said. "He's a football player. He doesn't like all the extra attention and all that. He's ready to go out there and play. We really expect him to play well."
The NCAA granted Coleman a sixth year of eligibility in January 2013, making him a 22-year-old sophomore.
Nobody on the team can relate to Coleman's situation, but defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker does have a small taste. Whitaker who sat out last season with an injury, will also start for the Tigers Saturday.
He calls Coleman's return "a blessing" and "a miracle" and related a recent exchange with the offensive lineman.
"I said, 'How you feeling?' I said it's been awhile for me, too," Whitaker said. "He just said, 'Hey, man, we're just going to live.' I thought that was a powerful message. Just live, just go out and play the game, go to practice, go to school, just live life, because it was getting to the point where we were scared that we thought he wasn't going to be here at one point.
"To see the success that he is having is overwhelming."