Coley heats up for Panthers' defense

Walking into Americus High School coach Erik Soliday's office Tuesday afternoon from the cold rain outside, Panthers defensive back Rodney Coley was wearing gloves.

"Hey, it's kind of chilly out there," Coley said with a laugh. "I've gotta keep those hands warm."

This season, Coley's hands have been precious gems to the two-time defending GHSA Class AA state champion Panthers, who play Buford in the state semifinals at noon on Friday at Atlanta's Georgia Dome. The game, which will be televised live on Georgia Public Television, features two defending state champions. Buford won the Class A championship last year.

The Americus-Buford game is one of two on Friday that pits the top-ranked team against the second-ranked one. Americus is No. 1 in AA, while Buford is No. 2. In the 9 a.m., A semifinal game, top-ranked Clinch County plays No. 2 Hawkinsville.

Entering Friday's game, Coley has seven interceptions this season. He returned two of those for touchdowns in Friday night's 57-9 win over Union Grove. He also has returned two fumbles this season for scores. Last season, he intercepted nine passes and returned one for a touchdown.

"Rodney brings a lot to the table," said Soliday, whose team is 13-0 and has gone 42-1 the past three years. "Because of his good speed and good instincts, he can really break on the ball well and maybe make a big play. And we count on him to make the big play for us."

Therefore, Coley takes that extra-special care of his hands.

"You have to use your hands just as much as a wide receiver," Coley said.

Ironically, when Coley was a freshman, he thought he was going to play wide receiver.

Then-Americus defensive coordinator Charles Truitt, now is the head coach at Sumter County, however, had other ideas.

"He made made me focus on defense," Coley said.

Now that Coley does focus on defense, he knows what to look for in a receiver when he is defending him.

"When he lines up on the inside, that means he's coming outside, and if he's lining outside, he's coming inside," Coley said. "You know, just the basics."

Of course, talking to the media, just the basics is all Coley is going to give. Obviously he knows more, or he wouldn't be making all these plays on defense.

"I've worked hard," Coley said. "I've gone full speed each and every play. I never let up."

Even though a lot of Buford's offense centers around running back Darius Walker, Coley has to be prepared if Wolves quarterback Kyle Manley goes to the air.

"If the ball comes my way, I try to go as hard as I can to intercept it," Coley said. "If I'm unable to intercept it, I at least want to be there to break up the pass or jar the ball loose after he catches it."

He has to. Coach Soliday and the rest of the Panthers are counting on him for the big play.

This story originally appeared in the Albany Herald.

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