Like any football player growing up, Shon Coleman's dream was to one day play in the NFL. It’s a nice thought, but the reality is that the majority of aspiring football players never make it to the next level. They’re either not good enough or they simply give up on their dream.
In Coleman’s case, it wasn’t a lack of talent and it certainly wasn’t because he gave up. His dream encountered a detour when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. The disease was supposed to take away football and possibly his life, but he didn’t let it. He battled through the disease and returned to the field three years later.
On Thursday, the Auburn offensive lineman will be at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the NFL draft. Unlike his former teammate and mentor Greg Robinson, who is expected to be a top-10 pick, Coleman won’t be hearing his name called. Instead, he’ll be the one on stage calling somebody else’s name, possibly Robinson’s.
On behalf of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and NFL PLAY 60, Coleman and his mother, DeKeisha, will join commissioner Roger Goodell to announce a pick during Thursday’s first round.
“For them to give me this opportunity is a blessing,” Coleman told AuburnTigers.com. “It’s very exciting. People are going to see my story.”
As a senior in high school, Coleman was 6-foot-6, 280 pounds and had offers from over half the teams in the SEC. He signed with Auburn in February 2010, but before he could enroll, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He spent much of the next three years in a hospital undergoing chemotherapy.
It was hell for the once-promising offensive line prospect, but he never gave up. He kept fighting, and it paid off when the doctors cleared him to play towards the end of the 2012 season. He began practicing with the team again, and made his return to the field this past Sept. 7, when Auburn hosted Arkansas State.
“Shon was a super hard worker,” former teammate Tre Mason said. “He was driven by what he went through. He took it in his hands to make the best comeback that I’ve ever seen. I feel like it was better than our season because he pretty much beat death. He’s coming back to play football and trying to give himself a chance to support his family.
“Shon will never quit. I know that if he does make it to the pros, that will be one of the best traits they’ll be receiving from Shon Coleman, that he’ll never quit.”
Coleman remains cancer-free, and he’s stronger than he’s ever been. He’s put back on all of his weight and then some. Auburn defensive lineman Gabe Wright said going against Coleman in practice is like “hitting a brick wall with a helmet on.”
“If you guys thought Greg [Robinson] was strong, you got another thing coming,” Wright said. “Shon is probably two times stronger than Greg.”
Coach Gus Malzahn arrived at Auburn about the same time the doctors cleared Coleman to play, and he has witnessed the miraculous comeback firsthand.
“This time last year, of course we had a close eye on him,” Malzahn said. “Everything he went through with his treatments and everything with that -- you could see he got better and better in the spring. And once we got to fall, you could tell he was starting to get his strength back. He did a solid job for us when he got in last year.
“Now, he's fighting for a starting position. You can see the urgency's there. He definitely looks like the guy that we recruited four years ago when he was healthy.”
Coleman is still locked in a position battle with Patrick Miller at left tackle, and while there’s a chance he might not start next season, it still beats the alternative. He has three years left to play and can once again chase down his dream, a dream that was nearly taken away from him by a cruel and unforgiving disease.
“I’ve got a dream that I work for every day, and I just work towards that goal,” Coleman told ESPN.com last month. “If I’m blessed enough to get in that position, then it will happen.”