“The second-year player, out of Indiana”
You could hear the excitement in the voice of Joe Buck - another former Hoosier himself - when Tevin Coleman made a workhorse-like run to gain 10 yards for a first down. The NFC Championship Game had only just begun, but the Atlanta Falcons were already driving down the field en route to a touchdown that would set the tone for the rest of the game.
And the former Hoosier running back was a key part of the Falcons’ 44-21 victory over the Packers. In fact, Coleman scored a touchdown of his own late in the game.
Along with Devonta Freeman, Coleman has been part of a devastating rushing attack this season. Combined with the MVP-caliber numbers of Matt Ryan and the playmaking ability of Julio Jones, the Falcons have stormed through their opponents all season long on the way to an NFC title.
But it hasn’t always been a smooth road for Coleman, who never played in a bowl game for Indiana, and overcame adversity of his own to get to this position.
Tevin Coleman was one of Kevin Wilson’s first prized recruits, a three-star out of Chicagoland who was rated 43rd in the nation at his position. Coleman saw the field immediately as a true freshman in 2012, and began to make an impact out of the gate. Against a bad UMass team, Coleman went for 86 yards on 14 carries. Unfortunately, that same game was where Tre Roberson was injured and out for the season. Coleman primarily fielded kicks the rest of that season, and even had a return for a touchdown against Northwestern. He finished the season with only 225 rushing yards and a touchdown, but did have 566 return yards, showing promise for what was to come for the rest of his time in Bloomington.
Fans didn’t have to wait long to see his breakout game in 2013. On a Thursday night in late August, Indiana opened the season with a visit from Indiana State. The Hoosier offense destroyed the overmatched Sycamores in what was the best one-game performance from any Kevin Wilson team. And Coleman was the breakout star of the 73-35 victory, rushing for 169 yards and two TDs on only 14 carries. Even Tom Crean took notice:
Noah Vonleh's cousin Tevin Coleman with lightning speed. I hope Noah runs the floor like that. Dominating runs in the family. Go IU— Tom Crean (@TomCrean) August 29, 2013
The rest of his sophomore campaign went similarly, as Coleman scored a touchdown in every game he played, and even rushed for 215 yards against Illinois, averaging 14.3 yards per carry. Unfortunately, the Illinois game was the last of his season, as he suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss the final three games. The injury left Coleman 42 short of the 1,000-yard mark on the year, but still had an impressive season, with 131 carries for 958 yards and 12 TDs. The groundwork was set for his junior season.
2014 was a revelation for Coleman and the IU faithful. Once again, Coleman opened the season by dominating Indiana State, going for 247 yards on the ground with two touchdowns. Coleman also broke open a long run after a catch in the closing minutes of the game at Missouri, which led to the Hoosiers’ first road victory over a top-20 opponent in 27 years. It was this game-changing ability and his ease at breaking out big plays that made Coleman such a promising NFL prospect.
With the Hoosiers sitting at 3-2, QB Nate Sudfeld separated his shoulder at Iowa, causing Indiana to lose its primary signal-caller and much of its momentum on offense. The injury did provide the world its first glimpse at Zander Diamont, but it was a devastating blow to IU’s season. Nevertheless, with opposing defenses putting nine in the box on what seemed like every play, Coleman still found a way to gain yardage. Although his touchdowns decreased, he still managed to run for over 100 yards in every contest that season except for the infamous punt game against Penn State. He even had an incredible game in mid-November against Rutger, where he ran for 307 yards and a score. (Side note: of course it was Rutger.)
And finally, in a Bucket Game victory over Purdue, Coleman got past the 2,000-yard barrier for the Hoosiers, finishing the year with 2,036 rushing yards and 15 TDs, averaging 7.5 yards per carry. At the end of the year, I even made the case that Coleman had had a more impressive season than Melvin Gordon, who got invited to the Heisman ceremony that year. But the what-if of Sudfeld’s injury still lingered - could the combo have led the team to a bowl game, or something even more? A lackluster defense might have ultimately prevented it, but the questions still remain. Regardless, Coleman left an impact on IU during his three years in Bloomington. He paved the way for what’s now known as Running Back U, as position coach Deland McCullough has continued the success of the ground game behind what has always been a solid offensive line.
After this season, Coleman wisely turned pro. But on draft night, Coleman never heard his name in the first round. Colts fans, in particular, were surprised that a team that seemed to desperately need a running back would bypass a running back, but Ryan Grigson seemed disinterested. The second round passed, and another similarly-rated B1G running back - Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska - went to the Lions, a team that seemed to be a good fit for Coleman. Finally, in the third round and with the 73rd pick, the Falcons chose Coleman. And while it seemed like a good fit, some Falcons fans were less than pleased because Atlanta already had Freeman in the backfield.
After the draft, however, Tevin Coleman’s sickle-cell trait became known to the public. We had heard rumors about his condition, but did not want to publicize it during his outstanding season or during his pre-draft hype, so we kept quiet until it became common knowledge. Coleman isn’t the first NFL player with the trait - longtime Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Clark played with it for many years - but it did explain the drop on draft day, even though he was a late first/early second round projection on many sites.
When Coleman got to Atlanta, he was named Week 1 starter against the Eagles. On a nationally-televised Monday night game, Coleman had 20 carries for 80 yards, an auspicious NFL debut. He scored a touchdown next weekend against the Giants; however, he also got injured and missed the next few games. By the time Coleman returned, Freeman was having his breakout season. Freeman finished with the seventh-most yards of any running back in the league in 2015 with 1,056, and tied for the league lead with 11 rushing scores. As a result, Coleman was pushed to a backup role for most of his rookie season. He ended the year with 392 yards and only one touchdown. After a dissapointing end to a season in which the Falcons started 5-0 but didn’t make the playoffs, I wondered if Coleman was going to work in Atlanta.
This season, however, Falcons coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan were able to maximize Coleman’s talent in a way that wasn’t prevalent at IU - but was foreshadowed in the big play against Mizzou. Coleman added a pass-catching aspect to his game that we rarely saw in his rookie season. Even in games when he struggled on the ground, Coleman could still be deadly in the backfield, and he had at least one catch in all but one game this season.
While his yards-per-carry have yet to match the heights of his college career, he continued his knack for finding the end zone this season, scoring eight touchdowns on the ground and three through the air. Between rushing and receiving, he had 941 all-purpose yards. He had a receiving touchdown in the divisional game against Seattle as well, and the aforementioned touchdown in the NFC title game.
In two Sundays, Tevin Coleman will play in Super Bowl 51 against the New England Patriots - the biggest game of his young career. While Coleman is only in his second year as a pro, the game seems to be a culmination of everything that he has accomplished and worked through. But regardless of the big game’s outcome (and whether Shanahan - as rumored - leaves the Falcons for the Niners job), watching Coleman find his stride in the pros has been refreshing, and the future looks bright for the former Hoosier.