Senior Retrospective: Kurt Coleman

With the 2009 season completed, it's time to celebrate the legacies of some of the senior Buckeyes who made lasting impacts at Ohio State, and it would be hard to argue that anyone did more for OSU in his time than Kurt Coleman. The safety not only made big plays and led OSU on the field, he also was a tireless off-the-field force.

Given the impact Kurt Coleman would have on the Ohio State football team over the next four years, the moment must seem particularly sweet in hindsight both to the Clayton, Ohio, native and OSU head coach Jim Tressel.

After months of being pegged as an OSU lean during the recruiting process, Coleman summoned a meeting of Tressel, safeties coach Paul Haynes and former cornerbacks coach Tim Beckman in June 2005 with something on his mind.

"I told Coach Tressel that I wanted to see him and Haynes Beckman in his office," Coleman told BSB at the time. "My parents and I went in there and I told everyone that I wanted to be a Buckeye."

With that, Coleman spurned scholarship offers from a number of schools, including most Big Ten teams and national programs such as Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Boston College. However, the stiffest competition came from Iowa, a place Coleman visited before choosing the Buckeyes.

"I would say Ohio State was always No. 1, but there was always someone right there with them," Coleman said. "For instance, Iowa – I was considering them just as much as Ohio State, but Ohio State definitely won it for me."

After committing, Coleman would embark on an OSU career in which he excelled on and off the field. Coleman finished his Buckeye career as an All-American, an All-Big Ten selection and team captain, making 219 tackles and nine interceptions during his career.

Ohio State saw such promise when he suited up in high school at Clayton Northmont. Coleman excelled his junior season of 2004, first appearing on the radar when he had three interceptions against Springfield South. Later that year, he sent three Piqua players to the sideline, and a tape of his exploits was sent to the OSU coaching staff during March 2005.

"They got the video on like a Wednesday night," Coleman said in the summer of 2005. "They offered on a Thursday."

That turned out to be a smart choice. Before finishing his prep career, Coleman earned two All-Ohio honors, excelling on defense and offense as well as in the return game.

That versatility would later serve Coleman well, as the marauding safety OSU fans came to know didn't start as a safety at all. After enrolling early, Coleman began his Ohio State career in 2006 playing cornerback, a position he said he could see himself playing during his recruitment.

As a freshman on the 2006 that went undefeated during the regular season, Coleman found a way to make an impact. His biggest play came when he blocked a field goal in the first quarter of the Buckeyes' win against Bowling Green, and Coleman ended up playing in 12 of 13 games, mostly on special teams, and making nine tackles.

"Personally I loved it," he said of playing as a freshman. "It was fun to get out there and get game-time experience when we got up by a lot. Some people don't really value that, but I really did. I think it really helped me going into my spring and then the following year."

The next season, Ohio State had a hole at safety, and Coleman was quick to move to the position and slide into the lineup. He spent all of camp paired at safety with fellow sophomore Anderson Russell, drawing the attention of his new position coach.

"He's very instinctive," Haynes said. "It's something that is not taught. I can't take credit for it. It's something that he has. He just has it. When a kid has that, he can play a little bit more confident. I can't sit there and say what it is. I know he's very instinctive, and he has good range, too. He puts himself into position to make plays."

Coleman had that reputation as a playmaker all the way back to his high school days, and though he had 64 tackles as a sophomore in 2007, he finished with only one forced fumble and a sack to go with no fumble recoveries or interceptions. The demanding defensive back was not pleased with that showing despite drawing rave reviews from onlookers.

"I was so disappointed in myself," Coleman said after the season. "I think I'm my biggest critic. You have to make big plays. I knew I didn't make them and this year I'm looking forward to it. I know what I can do and what I can't do, and I can make plays."

Still, there was no denying Coleman was becoming more and more comfortable on the field. He made 32 tackles over the team's first seven games but said things didn't really start to make sense on the field until the team's eighth game against Michigan State.

"Everything clicked," he said. "I could make the reads. I made the plays that I needed to make and it was really fun out there."

From there, Coleman saved some of his best games for last. Though the Buckeyes dropped a Senior Day game to Illinois, Coleman was named the team's defensive player of the game. In the national title game against LSU, Coleman made a career-high 10 stops.

He picked up where he left off – and then some – in 2008. Coleman missed the opening two games with an ankle injury but quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with, making two interceptions in his second game back against Troy. He ended the season with 78 tackles and four interceptions, making big picks in road games against Michigan State and Illinois.

Yet again, he was at his best at the end of the season, making 11 tackles vs. the Fighting Illini, 10 more against Michigan and 11 against Texas.

Such play made observers wonder if Coleman was going to forgo his final season in order to enter the NFL draft, but his work at Ohio State was far from over. In the days after the game with Texas, he announced his plan to return to Ohio State.

"My decision to come back is a lot about helping this team," Coleman said. "I feel we can do anything next year. We have a lot of great leaders coming back and an excellent group of underclass talent. For me personally, my family and I felt this was the best decision for me, to make my career at Ohio State even better than it has already been."

"I am extremely blessed to be in the position where these opportunities are possible, and I'm very grateful for the support of my family, my teammates and the Ohio State community. I have a lot to prove to myself and a lot of things I want to accomplish. With one more year here, I can attain all those goals."

One of those goals? For those who know Coleman, it was an easy answer – to make more plays.

"I've got to keep making more plays," Coleman said. "I pay attention to the top guys in the nation. Eric Berry (of Tennessee) had 10 interceptions (last season). That's kind of one of my goals. I have to try to do better than that. I really feel like as this team gets better and we do well, my stats will come. So I'm not going to be worried about how I'm doing, just how the team is doing."

But before Coleman's final campaign could begin, leadership became an issue. First, the vocal senior was in line for the captaincy of the Buckeye team, a role for which it seemed he'd been auditioning for years.

"I've taken a lot of wisdom and a lot of things from Malcolm (Jenkins), James (Laurinaitis) and even when Troy (Smith) was there," he said. "I watched them a lot and I saw how they carried themselves and carried the team. I've tried to use some of those things they've given me around the team this year.

"I have to be the guy who sets the bar for everybody," Coleman added. "Before you could kind of lean back on James or Malcolm or Marcus (Freeman). This year I feel like I've got to set the pace and lead by example with everything I do. I always felt like I did the right things and played well, but this year I have to (do more)."

In the preseason, Coleman – whose father Ron battled breast cancer – also organized a benefit video game tournament to raise money for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurological order that has stricken quarterback Terrelle Pryor's father.

"I think we're in a fortunate position for us to go out and make a great difference in the world and the community," he said. "This is just one way that we do that."

His final season turned out to be an excellent one, with his game-changing plays almost too numerous to count. Coleman had a fourth-quarter interception against Navy, then turned the Wisconsin game with an 89-yard pick six. He also pilfered two passes against Michigan on the way to earning his fourth pair of gold pants, while snagging an errant pass against Minnesota as well.

When the year was over, Coleman was third on the team with 68 tackles to go with 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack, those five picks for 129 yards of return yardage, four pass breakups, a fumble recovery and three forced fumbles.

The only downside was a one-game suspension for a late-game hit against Illinois, but he responded with the big interception and touchdown in his first game back against the Badgers.

"I learned don't hit the QB helmet to helmet," he said after the UW game when asked what he learned form his suspension. "No, but it was – I really can't describe it. It was so tough because I'm used to being out with the team at practice and especially for when they travel. I've never experienced it, so I had to do a lot of things to get my mind off it. I watched a lot of football. I sent Austin (Spitler) and a lot a guys a text telling them I was there for them and come back with a win."

Make no mistake, Coleman's teammates were happy to have him back.

"He's a great piece of our defense, and we need him," end Thaddeus Gibson said. "He's a senior captain, and we need every piece to this puzzle to get the job done. Kurt is a great guy. He's a great captain and he's going to give credit when it's due."

By the end of the season, Coleman had racked up enough plaudits and plays to be named the team's 2009 most valuable player.

"I am just proud at how this team has responded through so many adversities and even though I was MVP, it was a team award," he said. "The defensive line and the linebackers did a great job of opening things up for me, so I said in my speech that even though it was for me, it was really about this defense and this team. It just goes to show that the team really respected me and the way I played."


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