J.C. Coleman planned more than two years for this. He graduated early, made the honor roll and, oh by the way, rushed for more than 4,000 yards in his career against the state's best competition.
Name a college admissions office and football program that wouldn't appreciate that profile.
's certainly approved, and the school welcomed Coleman last month as an early enrollee.
So less than two months after leading
's Oscar Smith to the Division 6 state high school championship, Coleman is on the Blacksburg campus building an academic and athletic foundation that should serve him well come spring practice in March and training camp in August.
"So many positives and no negatives," Coleman said, citing benefits such as playbook study, weight training and academic transition.
Coleman was sold on early enrollment by several former Oscar Smith players who recommended the experience. Among them: Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims,
defensive tackle Evan Hailes and Arkansas receiver Quinta Funderburk.
And now, as Wednesday's national signing day arrives, Coleman sees another advantage: a chance to play in 2012 as a true freshman.
Tailback is often a position of strength at Tech, but David Wilson's early departure to the NFL, Josh Oglesby's graduation and Tony Gregory's knee surgery leave quite the void.
"When I started hearing the rumors that David Wilson was going to be leaving, I thought, 'Wow, this is going to be a huge opportunity for me,' " Coleman said.
Running backs coach Shane Beamer agrees.
"I think it's always an advantage, especially this year if you're a running back," Beamer said of early enrollment. "He's not going to be fighting for reps (in spring practice) It will be him, (redshirt freshman) Michael Holmes and a couple of walk-ons."
Beamer knows Coleman can run, witness his three touchdowns in the 47-21 state title victory over Centreville and his 4,416 career yards. During spring practice, coaches will ask him to develop other skills.
"Playing running back is easy as far as the running part goes," Beamer said. "It's the pass protections you have to learn, it's the pass routes you have to run."
No worries. Coleman said he is comfortable catching the ball and blocking.
"I can do a lot of things that a bigger back can't do," Coleman.
Indeed, the 180-pound Coleman is rather small by tailback standards. Most publications list him at 5-foot-8, but he cops to 5-7.
Again, no worries. The NFL and Virginia Tech long have been littered with shorter running backs.
The pros range from Barry Sanders to
include Mike Imoh and
Oscar Smith has a history, too. Perry Jones excelled there as a 5-8 tailback, and last season was the
's most versatile and valuable player.
"I've heard that a million times," Coleman said of the size question. "They always say I'm too small, too short, not big enough, not strong enough, not fast enough. I just take it on and use it as motivation."
Beamer: "If you have five tailbacks on scholarship, you don't want them all to be (that) small. But I'm more about production, and J.C. is productive."
Coleman was productive last season — he gained 1,488 yards and scored 20 touchdowns — despite a right ankle injury that shelved him for three games. Lingering pain has curbed Coleman's conditioning, but he's rehabbing and stretching ligaments daily and never misses 6 a.m. weight-lifting sessions.
"Can't be a minute late," said Coleman, who's studying nutrition and health with an eye toward
. "I get there at 5:55."
Coleman is even more enthusiastic about spring practice and April's spring game. He attended last year's spring game and committed that weekend to the Hokies.