Packers Path To Draft: Part 6

This outside linebacker prospect persevered through incredible adversity to become one of the nation's top pass rushers. The latest player profiled in our Path to the Draft series talked to the Packers at the Senior Bowl.

Most interviews with an athlete — especially one who's not especially interested in talking after a long, grueling practice — devolve into a stream of clichés.

This one appeared to be heading down a similar, boring path.

During a practice at the Senior Bowl last month, Auburn's Antonio Coleman was a one-man wrecking crew. Quarterbacks were fleeing the pocket. End-arounds were engulfed. Flea-flickers were flung. No. 52 was everywhere.

Afterward, scouts conducted brief interviews with Coleman on the field of Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Between those interviews, this reporter asked Coleman if there was a person that played an instrumental role in him becoming a mid-round NFL draft prospect.

"What helped me the most was all the adversity I've faced," Coleman said. "I've fed off of it ever since I was a little kid. It got me here along with God and my family."

"Adversity" is a favorite word in an athlete's vocabulary. A coaching change, a bad game, a hang nail: all are considered adversity.

Asked to elaborate, Coleman turned back the clock to when he was in ninth grade. Shortly after leaving church on a Sunday, his brother — who had recently been released from jail — murdered his fiancee, who he thought had been cheating on him. The brother, Anthony, committed suicide.

Coleman's life was turned on its ear. With his mother, Olivia, now raising five nieces and nephews, Coleman went from little brother to father figure in their two-bedroom project home in Mobile.

"It motivates me every day," he said.

The incident was a tipping point in Coleman's life. He graduated in December 2008 with a degree in criminology while pursuing a second degree in health promotions.

On the field, he led the SEC in regular-season sacks (nine) and tackles for losses (15.5) as a senior, even though he was slowed for the first half of the season with a wrist injury that required a bulky brace. Down the stretch, with the wrist requiring smaller and smaller casts, he recorded 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for losses in his final six games.

Coleman ranks third in Auburn history with 23.5 sacks. At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, the first-team all-SEC defensive end has the frame and athleticism to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. With Aaron Kampman a free agent and coming off a torn ACL, Jeremy Thompson's career clouded by a neck injury, Brady Poppinga due to make $2.25 million between salary and bonus and the jury out on Brad Jones after a decent rookie season, it's no surprise the Packers were one of the teams that talked to Coleman while in Mobile.

"They know I'm a pretty good pass rusher," Coleman said of the NFL scouts. "They want to see me extend my arms on the run. I've been doing that. I'm a physical guy and love playing the run."

Coleman is more than just a pass rusher. He said he was "loving" playing special teams at the Senior Bowl. And that he blew up an end-around and running back-to-quarterback flea-flicker on successive plays showed a nose for the ball that is critical in the NFL and defied some pre-Senior Bowl scouting reports.

"You've got to have fish eyes on the football field," he said. "I'm always looking to take advantage of trick plays and stuff of that nature. I'm very good with my eyes and I'm a very smart football player.

"Whoever drafts me, I'll do anything they want."

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

Packer Report Top Stories