If Virginia Tech didn't want him, J.C. Coleman didn't want the stress.
It was the middle of his junior year at Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, and though he'd just finished running for 1,402 yards and 21 touchdowns, he hadn't caught so much as a whiff of recruiting interesting from Tech. West Virginia, Old Dominion and even Florida International had seen fit to offer Coleman a scholarship before Tech bothered to pay him attention.
"At one point, I was even hating Tech because they weren't recruiting me," said Coleman, who was considered by most recruiting analysts to be among the nation's top 35 running back prospects in the class of 2012. "Then, once (Tech) started hopping on, I immediately fell in love with them because I knew the running back situation and everything."
Though he may not have gotten off on the right foot with Tech (4-3 overall, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), it didn't take him long to warm up to the idea of following in the footsteps of Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson.
At 5-foot-7 1/2, Coleman is the kind of player who could be overlooked if he didn't make a fast impression on the field. He did it for the first time last Saturday in Tech's 41-20 win against Duke, running 13 times for 183 yards and had touchdown runs of 45 and 86 yards. His yardage was a freshman rushing record in Frank Beamer's 26 seasons as Tech's coach.
"When I was in high school, I was able to pull off a lot of long runs," said Coleman, who finished his high school career with 4,416 yards. "When I got that opportunity (against Duke), it reminded me a whole lot of high school."
After enrolling at Tech in January so he could participate in spring practice, Coleman used the head start on learning Tech's blocking responsibilities and a summer that saw him go from 175 points to 192 pounds to put himself in position to play. Yet, Coleman had to work out of a three and four-man rotation at tailback with Michael Holmes, Tony Gregory and Martin Scales in Tech's first six games.
With Coleman's first breakout game under his belt, running backs coach Shane Beamer may not be ready to declare him the future of Tech's backfield heading into Saturday's game at No. 14 Clemson (5-1, 2-1), but Coleman may have earned a steadier workload. He now leads Tech, which is 78th in the nation in rushing offense (151 yards per game), with 319 yards on 44 carries (7.2 yards per carry).
"I'd be dumb to sit here and tell you that J.C. and Tony (eight carries for 33 yards against Duke) didn't open up some eyes Saturday with the way that they played, but as far as saying that this guy is the leader and the anointed one for the rest of the year — not necessarily," Shane said.
Holmes started five of Tech's first six games, but he had a season-low two carries for nine yards against Duke. Shane said Tech has personnel packages that will feature Coleman and Gregory together in the backfield, as well as Holmes and Scales together, but Shane concedes he isn't about to pass up the chance to hand the ball to the hot hand.
"It's not Little League where everybody plays and gets a participation trophy," Shane said. "We're here to win games."
Despite his diminutive stature, Coleman always has possessed a style of game that grabbed attention. When Tech finally started to take notice, coach Frank Beamer instantly put Coleman in elite company.
"I remember looking at his high school tape, and the only guy I ever saw who had as many long plays as him was Eddie Royal," Beamer said. "That kind of made a statement to me right there."
Coleman models his game after 5-9, 195-pound former Oregon Ducks and current San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James and 5-8, 212-pound Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Coleman still takes grief about his height from teammates and even Tech deputy director of football operations Bruce Garnes, who gets down on one knee before giving Coleman a high-five, but Coleman has thick skin.
"I'm cool with it," Coleman said. "It's something I've got to live with."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times