Bryon Coleman talking about his son, UT quarterback B.J. Coleman
Saturday morning having barely dawned, B.J. Coleman was already halfway out the door of his Knoxville apartment when his cell phone rang.
“I'm going to hit the links,” said the former McCallie School star and current University of Tennessee reserve quarterback. “Actually, I'm just going to a driving range. My clubs are back in Chattanooga.”
And how far can Coleman club it on the range?
“They say I can hit it 325 yards on a simulator,” Coleman chuckled. “But I don't think how far you hit it matters as much as how straight you hit it.”
Coleman may or may not ultimately start for the Vols this season. The redshirt freshman is said to be in the mix and that's probably praise enough for his talent and toughness.
But when it comes to hitting it straight metaphorically, Coleman is surely as good as it gets in Big Orange Country.
“We're tickled to death at the maturity B.J.'s shown,” said Bryon Coleman, the player's father. “Like going out to read to kindergarten kids in Knoxville. Like taking Spanish and math in summer school and getting an A in each course so far.
“B.J.'s never been an immature kid, but he realizes it's time to grow up and he's made all the right decisions.”
Being available for children is a decision many athletes make, sometimes to less fanfare than they probably deserve.
As B.J. said, “It's a lot of fun going places and entertaining little kids. I remember what it was like to be that age, how much you looked up to college football players. I want them to have that same feeling after they've met me.”
But not every player on Tennessee or any other school understands the gift of a college scholarship beyond the playing field. Coleman appears to, which is a credit to the player, his parents, Bryon and Anita, McCallie and the UT coaching staff.
“I've talked to B.J. more than once about the long-term opportunities that come with playing college football,” said Bryon, who was an offensive lineman for Joe Morrison at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the mid-1970s.
“I've said, ‘People want to meet you because of that No. 18 jersey you wear. Those folks may be your boss one day. Look them in the eye and shake their hands. In four or five years you may need them to get a job.’”
Taking to heart such advice, young Coleman is careful to be polite and attentive whenever strangers approach.
“I guess there are a few more autograph requests than last year,” B.J. said. “And everybody wants to know what kind of season we're going to have. As long as it doesn't make me late for class or practice, I try to be as helpful as I can.”
He also tries to dress for success.
“When I went to Riverbend with my girlfriend,” said B.J. of the Scenic City's long successful music festival, “I wanted to dress well. Collared shirt, khaki shorts, nice shoes, a good haircut. Now if I'm just hanging out with my buddies I'll probably wear some of my Orange stuff. But if I'm at Riverbend or somewhere in public with a lot of people, I want to look as sharp as I can.”
This isn't to say B.J. no longer frustrates his parents on occasion. When he decided to come home for Riverbend a few weeks ago, he also hauled home his dirty laundry, hoping Anita would wash it.
“Just trying to save a couple of quarters,” he said. “But I know my mom doesn't deserve that.”
Apparently Anita agreed. She left it on the back porch until Sunday, when B.J. finally washed it himself.
“But she did help me fold it,” he laughed.
Still, how many college football players take over a college math class, as Coleman did on Friday with a little help from wide receiver Gerald Jones and running back Daryl Vereen?
“We got a chance to teach a class on football plays, about what all goes into calling a play,” B.J. explained. “It was a lot of fun doing that in front of a big class. As a quarterback, there's a lot of math in football. There are so many numbers running through your head. Down and distance, time and score. After it was over, so many of the other students came up and said, ‘I had no idea how hard you guys work and how much you have to know.’”
As a test, a sports writer couldn't help asking how many days were left until the Vols' opener at UCLA on Labor Day night?
“Sixty-five,” said Coleman without hesitation.
On Saturday morning there were. This morning there are 64. That's how you get good enough in math to teach the class.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...