CHAMPAIGN — Seth Coleman realizes he's in a unique spot as far as being a Division I, Power Five Conference football player goes.
He was ready to shut football off two years ago as a junior at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Fla. Instead of football, Coleman turned his attention to basketball. It made sense. He was 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds — a frame that was probably better suited for basketball than it was as a defensive end.
That act of not playing football as a junior doesn't exactly lend itself as the precursor to playing in the Big Ten. Coleman, though, got back on course with football and found himself taking the path less traveled — all the way to being a freshman defensive end on the Illinois football team.
“My coach said I didn’t have any scholarships in basketball, so come out and play football," Coleman said. "I was like, ‘I might as well.’”
The Illinois coaching staff found Coleman at a Mercer football camp in June of 2018 and fell in love with his frame, albeit a frame that was a little bit light. It turns out, the Illinois coaching staff was on to something. Coleman committed in July, before his senior season, which proved important. He broke back onto the scene as a senior with 101 tackles, 28 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.
His phone blew up with college coaches on the other end of the line, all trying to flip his commitment before signing day. Coleman wasn't hearing it. He stuck with Illinois after late pushes by several other Power Five programs including Baylor, South Florida, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, TCU, Utah and Virginia.
“There were a lot of people coming at me and everything," Coleman said. "It was really crazy. I knew they had been there since the beginning. I love their program. I love (Head) Coach (Lovie) Smith and (defensive line) Coach (Austin) Clark. Education-wise, it was for me."
Coleman is listed at 6-5, 215 pounds on the roster, and knows he could stand to add more weight to his frame. In early portions of training camp, he showed flashes of getting to the backfield as a disrupter. He fits the long, athletic mold that the Illinois coaching staff is looking for in their defensive end. His slender frame wasn't a deterrent for the coaching staff, they welcome the opportunity to help shape his body for the Big Ten.
He isn't unlike defensive ends Ezekiel Holmes and Isaiah Gay. Both came to Illinois as slender defensive ends. The weight can come. The coaches are more concerned about size and length. Clark calls it the "Bobby Roundtree mold" — longer athletes on the edge who can add weight.
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“Seth is an extremely explosive kid, gives us a chance, has a great burst off the edge," Clark said. "He’s a coachable guy. He’s exactly what we thought he was. We’re really excited about him."
Coleman is nursing a hamstring injury, Smith said on Wednesday, but prior to that he showed the burst off the edge that was so alluring to college coaches who desperately tried to flip his commitment. It's exactly why the coaching staff is high on his potential.
“Before that, we saw a guy who can rush off the edge," Smith said. "That’s what we thought he’d be able to do for us early on. There’s still some development that has to happen as far as building his body up, but he’s exactly what he thought he would be. He’ll eventually be a good outside rusher for us."
Admittedly, Coleman said it doesn't seem real that he landed in a Power Five conference, playing a sport he walked away from two years ago. He's heard naysayers and their concerns about his build. He feeds off of those comments, and said it's comforting when he makes plays knowing that he can adapt to college football.
“It’s a blessing to be where I’m at right now," Coleman said.
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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25