Even as Lanier Coleman begged of his Cal-Berkeley athletes to leave everything on the field, there was a part of him in the back of his mind that knew he was being slightly hypocritical.
The former Louisiana-Lafayette defensive lineman hadn’t followed his own advice, quitting football after the Minnesota Vikings cut him before the 2009 season.
He still had a deep love of the game, a passion that had yet to extinguish in spite of being out of pads for the past few years.
So when Chris DiSanto, his fellow strength-and-condition coach at Cal, implored him to give it one more try, he knew he had only one choice.
“What will help me to not regret anything will be the effort I put forth in it,” Coleman said recently. “That’s the way I coach my athletes. I told my softball team at Cal this – winning to me, and this in the Friday Night Lights movie, but winning is just being able to look your family and friends and teammates in the face and say I gave it everything.”
This week, when the New York Jets begin training camp, Coleman, 26, will be there. He’ll show off his 6-foot-4, 322-pound frame, one now impressively in shape after spending few years as a strength-and-conditioning coach at Rice and Cal.
When asked why he thought Coleman should be playing instead of teaching, DiSanto, now an assistant with the Cleveland Browns, was quick to point out his physical attributes.
“Just look at him,” DiSanto said. “He’s enormous. You don’t see too many guys built like him.”
But it was about more than Coleman’s body type that stood out to DiSanto, who still counts the former Brother Martin wrestler as a friend.
“I used to just watch him at practice,” DiSanto said. “I used to watch him gravitate to the defensive linemen and kind of was just something I could tell. I could tell he missed it. I could tell he wanted (it). The d-linemen would ask him questions and I could tell by his body language that it was something that he still had it.”
Coleman wasn’t drafted by the Vikings but went to rookie camp with Minnesota after graduating in 2009. Karl Dunbar was there with the Vikings and all these years later, remembered Coleman.
So when the former UL-L player contacted him about a possibly tryout with the Jets, where Dunbar started in 2012, the coach made it happen. And three years after last playing organized outdoor football, Coleman made an obvious impression.
It could have been Coleman’s impressive workout numbers. He can bench 450 pounds. He squats 570. His power clean maxed at 405 and his dead lift is a robust 600 pounds. And the big fell has a 37½ inch vertical.
Or it could have been work ethic set into his psyche in his Brother Martin wrestling days.
“The football program was one thing because obviously I learned the foundation to play football with,” Coleman said. “But I tell everybody, what changed me at Brother Martin and what changed my life was wrestling at Brother Martin. It set the standard and set the tone for work ethic, leadership and for focus moving forward.”
Getting to the NFL has been a dream of his, ever since a PE coach at Brother Martin told him “one day somebody is going to pay you a lot of money to play football.”
But that reality seemed all but impossible after he couldn’t break into the league in 2009.
“When I didn’t get my opportunity to stay in Minnesota it was devastating to me,” Coleman said. “It really crushed me. I talked to my dad and uncle about it. It really crushed me. It was confusing because I felt like I gave it everything I could.”
What was missing was prodding, vocal recognition from a friend that he shouldn’t give up on his dream just yet.
DiSanto was that man and maybe because DiSanto had more than five years experience with an NFL team as a strength-and-conditioning coach, the message stuck.
DiSanto, for one, still believes in his friend even if they’re working for different AFC teams.
“I think it speaks to his character that he could take three years off and he could get back in shape and he could demonstrate to the coaches in the NFL that he has the ability to play and show enough in those three days that they were willing to take a chance on him,” DiSanto said.
“Nothing is promised to him and he has to continue to prove himself every day just like every other player in the NFL, but I think we’ll be seeing him for a long time to come. I believe he has the tools to do it from a physical standpoint.”