When Shon Coleman signed a football scholarship with Auburn University in 2010, his future potential seemed unlimited.
Despite the fact that Coleman has yet to play a down for the Tigers and there is no guarantee he will ever contribute on the football field, his future in life remains bright thanks to the dedication and commitment of the Auburn coaching staff.
The 6-7 285 pound offensive lineman out of Olive Branch, Mississippi was one of the highlights of the 2010 recruiting class. He was a five-star recruit and expected to be an anchor of the Auburn offensive line for years to come.
He committed to Auburn and head coach Gene Chizik early in the process and then briefly flirted with Miami and Alabama before standing firm with his original choice and signing with Auburn on February 3, 2010.
Less than a month later, Coleman’s world was shattered.
The promising high school star who seemed destined for college success and who had NFL aspirations found himself in a fight for his very life. Coleman was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
By the end of March, Coleman had undergone surgery and was taking regular chemotherapy treatments.
As he battled the disease, Auburn coaches and fans remained firmly in his corner.
“All we do is think of him as part of our family,” Auburn assistant coach Trooper Taylor told the Associated Press in August. “He was an integral part of our recruiting class obviously. But he and his family were a bigtime inspiration for us.”
Auburn held his scholarship in reserve until such time as he could resume his career on the Plains.
One Auburn fan started a fundraising effort to collect funds to battle the disease in Coleman’s name.
As of December the fund had raised over $25,000.
In August of 2010 Coleman’s progress was sufficient that he was able to travel to attend Auburn’s game against Clemson. Auburn coaches had been to visit him during his recovery, but this was his first chance to be in Auburn since his diagnosis.
“I haven’t been down there in awhile,” Coleman said, “and I’ve been really looking forward to coming to a big game.”
Coleman’s treatment was successful and by early 2011 the cancer was in remission. His strength returning, Coleman began his academic career at Auburn while he held on to hope that one day he would be able to suit up for the Tigers.
“What a great story that this guy has done what he’s done,” Chizik said in March. “He’s in school. He is doing the things he needs to do to continue to try to get well and be a part of Auburn football. If that happens, that’s awesome. If it doesn’t, he’s part of the Auburn family and he’s here.”
Coleman was added to the 2011 roster as a freshman even though Auburn coaches knew he wouldn’t be able to be an active participant.
When the 2012 roster is released, expect Coleman to retain his spot, his scholarship and number 70 on the Tiger roster.
Coleman’s inspirational story and the commitment Auburn coaches showed by standing by him during adversity makes him perhaps the most beloved Tiger to never play a down.
Should he complete his journey back and one day take his place the field, the first time his name is called over the public address system Jordan Hare Stadium may not be able to hold the thunderous roar of joy that will shake its foundations.
In a world where some college football coaches refuse to acknowledge the blatant hypocrisy of demanding that recruits honor commitments on one hand while treating those commitments as if they were disposable on the other, it’s refreshing to see Auburn University and its coaching staff do the honorable thing and maintain Coleman’s status.
It is great to be an Auburn Tiger. Just ask Shon.
Note: Adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). The Never to Yield Foundation supports the Shon Coleman Tribute Fund and encourages you to get involved in the effort to find a cure.