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  • Writer's pictureAl Thompson


The Lenape speedster has remained resilient in his quest for success despite practice restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus

Xavier Coleman has made a verbal commitment to Boston College. Photo furnished by Xavier Coleman

Xavier Coleman is fast, really fast.

Defenders across South Jersey have been looking at the No. “1” on the back of his jersey for three years now. In 2019, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound blur found the end zone 24 times alone.

Coleman scored 14 times as a running back, seven times as a receiver and three more times as a kick returner.

He plans to take his considerable talents to Boston College after his senior season. It will be a senior season like no other class has experienced, maybe ever.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have been closed since March. Sports at all levels have been canceled or postponed. Players at every level of every sport are not even allowed to practice together, at least as a team.

There are indications that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will allow high sports to practice at some point this summer with the hope for fall sports including football. Games may be played in empty stadiums, but that's better than not playing at all.

Like most student-athletes, Coleman is getting used to the uniqueness of the 2020 offseason.

“I think it definitely has sunk in,” Coleman said. “After being in quarantine for about three months, I think the biggest thing about this quarantine is, being a football player right now, you have to be real creative with your workout. A lot of gyms aren't open so you can't lift a lot of weights. It is real hard to get on an open field, at least it was at the beginning. It's really about just being creative and really wanting to get the work in and be a better athlete. That's the thing about this, just getting better.”

Coleman says he's been able to find a field to do some sprints and running.

“There is a field in Mt. Laurel that's been open the whole time,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I've been going there almost every day. One of my friends has a weight room in his basement. So I've been going to his house for about six weeks now. It hasn't been a big problem for me, I just have to figure out how to do those workouts.”

Hard work all year round has made Lenape's Xavier Coleman one of the top high school running back prospects in the country. Photo by Marc Bueller Photography

COLEMAN AND BRUCE LED A POTENT LENAPE OFFENSE in 2019, Lenape fielded a talented team with a stubborn defense and a big offensive line, not to mention powerful backfield that included juniors Hamza Bruce and Coleman.

Bruce was the feature back for Lenape (10-2). The 5-9, 191-pounder carried the ball 166 times for 886 yards and nine touchdowns. Coleman carried the ball 60 times for 531 yards scoring 14 touchdowns.

Coleman made a lot of his living though the air, catching passes, hauling in 29 receptions for 531 yards and seven more trips to the end zone. This year, Coleman expects to carry the ball more.

“Last year I was in the slot most of the time, more playing receiver,” Coleman said. “I played the slot probably the whole season. This year I will be playing in the slot and in the backfield.”

Coleman gave a shout out to the linemen who paved the way for the success him and Bruce had last fall.

Those blockers included Dom Monserrate, Jammal Simon, Mark Loveland, Owen Hartman, Vaughn Heller, and Jake Silver.

“I appreciate all of them and the things that they do for me,” Coleman said. “Everyday in practice they push me to be the best athlete I can be. I have so much level of respect for them. They have been my guys since my freshman year.”

Coleman also plays safety for the Indians. He says he loves playing anywhere on the field, but offense is his preference.

“I don't have a favorite position, I just like the offensive side of the ball more,” Coleman said. “That's where I've been playing most of my life. Defense is super-fun. Any way I can help my team win is the best part of the field. Anytime I can have the ball in my hand, that's when I feel I'm the most dangerous.”

COLEMAN HAS HIS COLLEGE CAREER ALREADY PLANNED OUT Coleman has made his verbal commitment to play for Boston College, a Power 5 program that competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

“At the beginning of my sophomore year, I started talking to coach (Rich) Gunnell,” Coleman recalled. “He was actually the receivers coach at the time, but now he's the running backs coach. They (Gunnell and head coach Jeff Hafley) recruited me.”

Coleman said the scholarship offer came after his first game as a junior.

“After Coach Hafley came in, I built a strong relationship with him, and a strong relationship with the whole staff. It's been all love since I committed.” Coleman talked about joining a program that he feels really wants him to be part of their football team.

“Coach Marcus (Hammond, Next Level Greats) has told me time and time again, you'll know when the school is right for you, you'll know. And I feel like ever since I started talking to Boston College real heavy, it was like it felt like home. They were telling me the things I wanted to hear. It felt like family. The campus is beautiful, the education is great...and they're in the ACC so I felt it was the perfect opportunity for me. We just made it happen.”

Hammond talked about the player he has helped develop into an elite high school running back.

"Xavier is a great player and an even better person,” Hammond said. “His work ethic is unmatched. He has the highest expectation of himself, and he is constantly working to outperform that expectation. I think he will be a star in the ACC. And I expect him to have a huge senior season"

It is not surprising to see that Coleman lists Adrian Peterson, Ladainian Tomlinson and Reggie Bush as his favorite NFL running backs from the past and New Orleans star Alvin Kamara as his favorite current player.

Lenape Head Coach Joe Wojciechowski says he believes he has the team that can contend for the Group 5 title. Photo by Al Thompson

COLEMAN AND THE INDIANS FEEL LIKE THEY HAVE UNFINISHED BUSINESS Lenape lost two games last season, both times to the Williamstown Braves.

The Indians lost to Williamstown on September 27 by the score of 28-21. Lenape then lost to the Braves in the NJSIAA South Group 5 Championship game.

The Indians led 10-0 at the half and 10-7 deep into the fourth quarter. The Braves rallied to score late to win the title 14-10.

Coleman talked about the championship game and how much they want to get that opportunity again.

“I would say since obviously since we were a couple inches short, I think we lost in the fourth quarter with like 40 seconds left, they scored the final touchdown,” Coleman said. “But I feel like, as a whole, we need to be more focused. Throughout the season we didn't stay as consistent as we need to be. We have a lot of people coming back, a lot of starters coming back,. With that experience, I feel like that will definitely help us in the long run. Once you get back to that point, which I know for a fact that we will be there. We will be ready for it, and there will be no hiccups in our game.”

Lenape head coach Joe Wojciechowski was asked if he has the horses to get back to the Group 5 title game and bring home a better result.

“I do, I do,” Wojciechowski said during a recent phone call. “We return quite a few players from that championship team last year. I think we have what it takes to get it done this year especially with a player like Xavier. He could be even more explosive this year, if that's possible With a guy like that, I like our chances.”

The coach said he believes there will be a season. But that's as far as he will predict.

“When we play, I have no idea,” Wojciechowski said. “How many games will we play? I have no idea. But I am optimistic we will have a football season this year.”

COLEMAN TALKS ABOUT THE VIRUS AND THE UNREST IN THE COUNTRY OVER RACIAL INJUSTICE Coleman is an African American football player who is experiencing some of the toughest times this country has experienced since the mid-to-late sixties when young people took to the streets to protest racial discrimination as well the draft and the Vietnam War.

There were significant changes in the country from those times. The war and the draft ended; laws against discrimination improved.

But systemic racial discrimination and police brutality against blacks remain a major problem in this country.

Coleman talked about how the protests and unprecedented awareness and willingness to change has affected his outlook.

“There was a lot of changes back then,” said Coleman, referring to the protests and activism of the 60s. “That's what we need now, a lot of change. A lot of people have to stop being so ignorant to the fact that things are really bad in the world right now, people are trying to down play it. But we can't stop. I think the biggest thing we need right now is change.”

Coleman also spoke about his take on the coronavirus and concerns it could come back if people do not follow the safety guidelines.

“I feel the biggest thing that we can take away from what the coronavirus did, is not being able to do regular things that we do. Like being able to go to school everyday. Obviously we need to take the precautions we need to do so we can get back to normal as soon as possible. We're already making strives in that direction. We just need to follow that guideline and be patient. That might be the biggest thing, being patient.”*

For a young man who thrives on being fast, that's quite a statement.*

Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii

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