Coleman Left It On The Diamond

As a senior, Kurt Coleman has established himself as one of the most athletic players in the Big Ten. Before his career started at Ohio State, however, Coleman was a two-sport athlete at Clayton (Ohio) Northmont who had to give up one sport when the call of the Buckeyes proved too great to resist.

When the Ohio State coaches moved Kurt Coleman from cornerback to safety during his first few weeks in the program, it was the second position change he had undergone within roughly the last year.

It was probably the easiest, too.

Although the senior captain for the Buckeyes is heading into the final games of a college career that figures to propel him into the NFL next fall, Coleman also excelled at baseball during his prep days at Clayton (Ohio) Northmont. A talented shortstop who also played catcher growing up, Coleman was asked by head coach Chuck Harlow to consider switching positions when he came up to the varsity level as a junior.

Suddenly, he was patrolling center field. Harlow said he got the job done, but it was not always pretty.

"Sometimes he would break the wrong way on the ball," Harlow told "He would break in and then he would turn around and run and make unbelievable catches. I remember many times sitting in the dugout going, ‘He's the only guy in the program who can do anything close to that.' "

For the year, Coleman batted .312 but had a .515 on-base percentage thanks to an unflinching attitude toward curveballs. Already crowding the plate, Coleman would take a pitch with his body in order to get in base. From there, Harlow said it was almost a guaranteed double as he would then use his natural speed to steal second base.

By the end of the year, Harlow said Coleman had broken the school record for having been hit by the most pitches. Also by the end of the year, the four-star cornerback prospect was receiving plenty of interest from college football coaches.

Coleman issued his verbal commitment to the Buckeyes in late June, and with that his baseball career was finished. Giving up the sport was not easy, Coleman said, because his father had played at a professional level when he was growing up.

"I always thought I'd be playing baseball throughout my career," Coleman said. "It was tough, to give up something you love. It's never an easy thing."

Coleman's father, Ron, spent some time in both the Pittsburgh Pirates' and Cincinnati Reds' organizations but did not catch on with either. He would go on to coach the sport, however, and was the head coach at Bellbrook, Ohio. When the team undertook a trip south during the winter, the father brought his son – who was then in middle school – along for the ride.

He nearly found himself playing in a game.

"I told one of my assistants to make out the lineup and put the best guys in the right spots," Ron said. "I looked at the scorecard and he had Kurt starting at shortstop. He doesn't even go to high school and he's not at our school. He was that good of a glove and had great instincts."

As Coleman said, he enjoyed the sport and envisioned continuing to play it long into his future. Harlow said the two never had to sit down and discuss his decision to stop playing baseball after his junior year because both knew the opportunity to enroll early and play at Ohio State was too much for him to dismiss.

Due to his abbreviated career – just one season of varsity exposure – Coleman did not receive scholarship offers from schools to play baseball. Still, his father himself said he was not sold on his son's ability to have a future in football until that junior year.

"I knew that I was pretty good and I knew he was a lot better than I was," Ron said. "He just didn't have my size but he had the speed and the quickness. He had a knack for the game he had gotten just from being around it and watching people and always playing up with older people."

Had he decided to devote himself to baseball, Harlow said he feels Coleman would have been a success.

"He's such a great athlete, if he would've chose baseball he would've had a tremendous future in baseball," the coach said. "He was just geared for football. He had a football mentality. He was a hitter. He was a headhunter. He was tremendous."

OSU safeties coach Paul Haynes said he saw Coleman play baseball a handful of times while the Buckeyes were recruiting him. Now his position coach, Haynes said it can be tough when a player has to give up a loved sport but added that most players who come to OSU are comfortable with the idea. In addition, players are allowed to branch out once they have been in the system for a few years provided they are academically stable enough to do so.

When it comes to baseball, though, the position coach said he knows that extra skills translate from the sport to football.

"I think the great thing about baseball now is what I've seen with kids who play baseball in high school have great ball skills," Haynes said. "The guys who run track don't have great ball skills."

According to Harlow, however, the book might not be firmly closed on the sport. His son attends OSU with Coleman and the two were prep teammates in both football and baseball, and as such Harlow said he has heard a rumor or two.

"I know that Kurt a couple times – at least I've heard that he's thought about when his eligibility was up walking over to visit (OSU baseball coach) Bob Todd," Harlow said. "He's the kind of kid that's such a good athlete, I think he could do anything."

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