Former Vol Justin Coleman hoping for one more call

Former Tennessee defensive back Justin Coleman runs during NFL Pro Day on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Knoxville. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Michael Patrick)

KNOXVILLE -- Justin Coleman was in his kitchen last month when his phone rang.

After performing well in the East-West Shrine Game in January, the former Tennessee cornerback was hoping he'd get an invite to the NFL combine and continue pursuing his dream of playing at the next level.

"At first I was confident, but the clock started ticking," he recalled Wednesday morning after Tennessee's pro day. "It came down to the last day. I was a little nervous like, 'Dang, I'm not going to get an invite.' I think I was in my kitchen about to cook something or whatever, when I guy called me (and) said this is such-and-such from the NFL scouting combine.

"As soon as I heard that, I probably didn't even listen to the rest. I just ran into my room, jumped on my bed, whatever. It was amazing."

Just think of what Coleman will do if he gets a similar phone call from an NFL team and sees his name flash across the bottom of his television during the draft (April 30-May 2).

The 5-foot-11, 188-pound former three-star recruit is Tennessee's best and only hope -- one person in the program said Wednesday morning that Tennessee was only able to get representatives from all 32 NFL teams to come to pro day was to include 10 players who were either locals or played at smaller programs in the state -- to avoid some dubious history.

Not since 1963 has there been an NFL draft in which the Vols have not had at least one player selected, a streak of more than a half-century.

"I actually just heard that a couple of weeks ago," Coleman said. "It'd always be an honor if I was the one to continue that streak and get drafted. I didn't expect (to be the only one drafted) coming, but things happen."

Of course, if not for A.J. Johnson's off-field situation, Coleman wouldn't be in the position he's in now.

The two-time All-SEC linebacker, who's been one of the Southeastern Conference's top tacklers the last three seasons, certainly would have been drafted, but his opportunity was taken away when he and former teammate Michael Williams were indicted last month by a Knox County grand jury on rape charges stemming from an alleged incident in November.

When Johnson was charged, the NFL pulled his invite to the combine, leaving Coleman as the only player representing the Vols in Indianapolis.

While he awaits trial, Johnson continues to train in Florida.

"That's tough, man," former defensive tackle Jordan Williams said as he shook his head. "I feel for him, man. It's just right now I feel like everything will work out in the end. I feel for him. I know he's grinding right now and I know his spirits are high. I feel like when all this is said and done he'll be back there playing."

Coleman, though, deserves credit for getting himself into consideration to be drafted.

After some struggles early in his career, he started the last 34 games of his career and recorded 42 tackles, four for loss and had a team-leading four interceptions while playing nickel cornerback in 2014.

"That's all I know, is perseverance," he said. "I deal with a lot of adversity in my life, and I've overcome the adversity and the reward's greater. All I had to do was keep pushing and showing that I can actually make it or I can play wherever to get to where I need to get for my dream goals."

Though Coleman was part of the reason the Vols gave up big games to opposing slot receivers, namely South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper and Missouri's Jimmie Hunt, late last season, he took advantage of his chance at the NFL combine.

Among corners, he posted the fastest time in the three-cone drill, finished third in the bench press and 60-yard shuttle and fifth in the 20-yard shuttle.

"I feel like all I needed was a shot," he said. "They gave me a shot to go to the combine, just to show whoever was watching the combine that I can run, jump, that I have the athleticism to do anything."

Wanting "to put the icing on the cake" as the draft nears, Coleman participated in only the vertical jump -- he posted a 37-inch mark -- and on-field defensive back drills on Wednesday. He spoke to a rep from the Philadelphia Eagles after his workout. He's got a workout scheduled with the New England Patriots at the end of the month and is hoping for more.

Coleman plans to spend draft weekend back home with his family in Brunswick, Ga., where he's hoping for another phone call.

"I might be over-excited, but I'm going to try not to show it," he said with a laugh. "I'm going to try to have a straight face about it and be a man about it. This is my opportunity."

Contact Patrick Brown at [email protected]