AUBURN — The time finally has arrived for Shon Coleman.
After a successful battle with leukemia, Coleman will make his long-awaited first start at left tackle when No. 6 Auburn hosts Arkansas on Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The former five-star recruit is being thrown right into the fire, having to faceoff with Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers, one of the best pass rushers in the SEC, if not the country.
“I watched a lot of film on him,” Coleman said. “He's a great player, and I'm looking forward to the competition.”
A preseason first-team All-SEC selection, Flowers is the active career leader in tackles for loss (32) in the conference, and has 12 career sacks. In the 2012 meeting of the team, Flowers blew away then-freshman Patrick Miller on his way to a career-best 3.5 sacks in helping the Razorbacks secure a 24-7 win.
“Trey is one of the better defensive ends in all of our league,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “They've got other defensive ends who are pretty good, too. Shon is in a good spot. He's very confident. He's playing very good football now so it'll be good to see how those matchups work out.”
After waging a successful battle with leukemia from 2010-2012, redshirting in 2012 and backing up eventual first-round NFL draft pick Greg Robinson last season, Coleman is ready to hit the field.
He recently spoke with senior defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, who sat out last season with a torn meniscus, about returning to the field.
“Football is a thing we've played since we were little, and it's something that's a lifestyle by now, and we were talking about getting out there back on that field,” Coleman said. “He's been through trials and tribulations just like I have. It's just (about) getting back out there — just live, just have a good time out there, have fun and play hard.”
Coleman’s message had an impact on Whitaker, who guard Chad Slade called the “grandfather” of the team.
“I thought that was a powerful message,” Whitaker said. “Just live — just go out and play the game, go to practice, go to school, just live life, because it was getting to the point where we were scared that we thought he wasn't going to be here at one point. To see the success that he is doing is overwhelming.”
Coleman is glad his story of triumph off the field has served as an encouraging example.
“My story has inspired a lot of people and I’m happy for that, just to be able to help somebody that’s going through the same situation I’m going through or something similar to it,” he said. “It’s always a good thing just looking back on it and knowing that I’ve helped somebody.”