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Jetting to the Top 

by Howie Stalwick


Seven games into his NFL career, Spokane's Erik Coleman has impressed everyone with his cool, calm and collected manner. Of course, as soon as Coleman got to thinking about his appearance on Monday Night Football, he completely blows his cover.


"I'd be lying if I said it's not very exciting," Coleman admits. "You grow up watching Monday Night Football."


Coleman's family and friends -- not to mention New York Jets teammates, coaches and fans -- loved what they saw of Coleman on Monday. The rookie free safety out of Lewis and Clark High School and Washington State University played a key role in a stifling defensive effort that helped the Jets pound Miami 41-14.


Coleman, who has started every game for the Jets despite not being drafted until the fifth round, moved into the team lead Monday with 42 tackles this season. Coleman had interceptions in each of his first two games -- he later had a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown against ex-Cougar coach Dennis Erickson's San Francisco 49ers wiped out by a penalty -- and he's already earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month and AFC Defensive Rookie of the Week honors.


"He has composure, and that's what I liked about him when he first came here," Jets coach Herman Edwards says. "The game wasn't too big for him."


Coleman helped the Jets start 5-0 for the first time in the team's 45-year history before defending Super Bowl champion New England edged New York 13-7 on Oct. 25 in a battle of unbeatens. Coleman led the Jets with a season-high eight tackles.


"We had our chances to win," Coleman says from the Jets' training facility. "They're a good team, too. It was a dogfight.


"I mean, I had fun. It was cold, it was raining, it was a playoff atmosphere. It was fun."


Coleman's coaches always marveled at Coleman's intensity and love for the game. Nothing has changed in New York.


"He's not intimidated to go out there," Edwards says. "He doesn't really care if he's a fifth-round draft pick. He just wants to play."


"Scouts who come through [Pullman] who are with the Jets just rave about him," says WSU defensive coordinator Robb Akey, who calls Coleman "one of my all-time favorites."


Coleman says he's been treated wonderfully by the notoriously demanding New York media and fans: "Everything's better when you win," he says.


Coleman is renting a house with Rashad Lewis, another rookie safety, outside of New York City near the Jets' training facility on Long Island.


"It's in Port Lockout," Coleman says. "It's a real quiet, residential town. You've got to drive 15 miles an hour. It takes about 15 minutes to get to our training facility if you drive the speed limit."


So, Erik, how long does it take you?


"I usually get there in 10 minutes," he says with a laugh.


Coleman can afford to laugh. Actually, the young man who grew up poor in Spokane -- his family was evicted from a home or two when they couldn't pay the bills -- can afford a lot of things on his $230,000 annual salary (the NFL rookie minimum) and his six-figures signing bonus.


Coleman bought his mother a car ("I owe her so much") and treated himself to a Cadillac Escalade EXT pickup.


"But I bought it with 2,000 miles on it, so I saved a lot of money," says Coleman, a conservative sort who says most of his money has gone to savings, investments and family.


The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Coleman is a ferocious tackler who has been known to put a world of hurt on opposing players. He was originally expected to back up veteran strong safety Reggie Tongue (a free-agent signee from the Seattle Seahawks), but when Tongue was slowed by a calf injury in training camp, Coleman took advantage.


"I'm confident in myself and my skills," Coleman says. "Now that I'm in this situation, I'm not overwhelmed."


Coleman says he quickly learned to admire the mild-mannered Edwards ("He's a man of Christ; he's just a good person"). It took a little longer for Coleman to appreciate new Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, a former Idaho assistant.


"He's more of an aggressive, fiery type of coach," Coleman explains. "He's been rubbing off on us. We're taking on his attitude on defense. I took a while to adjust to his coaching style, but he's a great coach."


WSU observers would think Coleman could handle any coach after dealing with the omni-intense Akey, but Coleman admits that Henderson "was definitely intimidating at first. I learned to listen to the message, not the delivery."


Coleman figures if he can adjust from the Apple Cup to the Big Apple, the move from college to the pros can't be all that tough.





Publication date: 11/04/04

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