By JIMMY WIGFIELD
Saraland defensive lineman Antonio Coleman might have thought an offer from Alabama would remain elusive for a while, like a quarterback or running back who barely managed to escape his clutches.
But Nick Saban was quicker than Coleman realized.
Coleman thought his Junior Day visit to Alabama last weekend would be routine until the legendary coach sat down with him.
“I thought they would just want to see my size and stuff like that,” Coleman said.
Saban reviewed some notes, then had something to say.
“He told me there were some things I needed to work on,” Coleman said. “He said he likes my quickness and strength and how agile I was. Then coach Saban said, ‘I want to offer you a scholarship.’ I was at a loss for words. I was astonished. That’s been my favorite school from when I was a kid.”
Coleman (6-3, 270) became the third Saraland sophomore to receive an offer from Alabama, joining five-star receiver Ryan Williams, who has already committed to the Crimson Tide, and four-star quarterback K.J. Lacey. Coleman is the first Saraland lineman to get an offer from Alabama.
“You look at three players in that sophomore class with offers from the University of Alabama — that’s a big deal,” Spartans coach Jeff Kelly said.
Coleman also has offers from Tennessee, UAB, Memphis, Marshall, Liberty and Austin Peay and said he is going to take his time deciding.
“I’m not in a rush,” he said. “I wouldn’t say right now (Alabama) is the leader but they are a great team … It’s a great school and their coaches are more than coaches — they make you a better young man.”
Coleman became a disruptive force on Saraland’s defensive front, finishing with 69 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 3½ sacks and 12 quarterback hurries in the Spartans’ state championship season.
“As a sophomore, he continually got better,” Kelly said. “He became more dominant and more confident as the season went along. In our biggest games, Tony played his best. He’s a big man who is explosive. He’s got a great first step and the ability to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage. It’s something coaches at the next level have noticed.”
Coleman said Saban told him he needs to get lower coming off the ball, something Coleman and Kelly acknowledge.
“As with any of our younger players, we want to see the consistency play in and play out,” Kelly said. “His pad level gets high at times. When he comes off low, he’s hard to deal with.”
Otherwise, Coleman has developed a lot of assets: “Play recognition, how quick I am to the backfield, the way I use my strength in different situations,” he said. “I feel like I’m a team leader and I bring good energy to the team.”
Coleman said he will not rest in his quest for improvement and neither will his teammates in the face of scholarship offers and the recognition which comes from winning a Blue Map.
“We’re enjoying it but we’re not going to let it be a distraction,” he said. “We’re working hard. Even though we won the state championship, we want to repeat. You can’t get comfortable or somebody will catch you. We’ve got to keep improving.”
Kelly is rubbing his hands briskly in anticipation of a spring practice with as deep a talent pool as has ever been seen in southern Alabama and he added Coleman, Williams and Lacey are just three of many other Saraland players drawing attention from recruiters.
“We’ve got a lot of other good players who are getting looks,” Kelly said. “We’ve got another group about to bust onto the scene this spring. I’m real excited for those guys and for what is about to happen. We’ve got guys who have gotten stronger and more explosive and we hope it will show up as what college coaches want to see. It’s gotten to be a highlight of our spring that it’s a who’s who of college football coaches watching our practices.”
The Spartans had 25 juniors and 31 sophomores on their state championship team and Kelly can’t wait to see them on the field in the spring.
“We’ve got a lot of those sophomores but also a lot of guys in that junior class who played and we’ve got a group of talented freshmen coming up who will be pushing for playing time,” Kelly said. “Even if you played last year, you can’t get comfortable. This could be as competitive a spring training as I’ve ever been a part of.”