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AU's cancer-stricken signee coming to game

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

AUBURN, Ala. -- This is something Shon Coleman has waited for since signing to play football for No. 16 Auburn: His first game as a Tiger.

Well, sort of.

Coleman won't be playing for the Tigers Saturday night against Clemson, but just being there is cause to celebrate for the cancer survivor.

"I haven't been down there in awhile," Coleman said, "and I've been really looking forward to coming to a big game."

Coleman is a huge offensive line signee from the latest recruiting class who was diagnosed with leukemia in March, a little over a month after signing with Auburn. It forced him to put both football and college on hold.

For Trooper Taylor, he's the most important visitor for the Clemson game. He trumps even Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of the ESPN GameDay crew who will broadcast from Auburn's campus.

"We can't wait to see" Coleman, said Taylor, Auburn's assistant head coach. "They talk about GameDay coming down, or Corso. No disrespect, I love him. Herbstreit's coming, I love that guy. But my man Shon coming to town is like Santa Claus coming to town. I cannot wait to hug his neck and see him."

Then again, "I don't know if I can get that high."

Coleman is the most popular Auburn signee yet to play a down. His cancer battle captured national attention and prompted a fan to start a fund in his name -- raising $18,000-plus so far.

Most of his Facebook messages lately revolve around Auburn's 2-0 start, and he's got nearly 2,500 "friends" on the social networking site -- many of whom he's never met. And now he gets to see his Tigers in person for the first time since his diagnosis.

Seven months ago, he figured to have a pretty good shot at playing in it. Coleman was one of Auburn's top recruits in February and among the most highly touted offensive tackles in the country, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound giant out of Olive Branch, Miss. And the Tigers were seeking a right tackle.

Then came the diagnosis and the treatments, which continue.

He's had some interesting experiences since then. Coleman got to hang out with Fox Sports' NFL broadcasting crew -- including Troy Aikman, Michael Strahan, Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson -- during a dinner at St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. They filmed a public service announcement at the hospital recently.

Strahan, a former defensive end, joked during the visit that meeting Coleman "made me realize why I stopped playing football, because look how big he is."

"I met a lot of people I used to look up to," Coleman said. "It was real good, something I can look back on down the road."

Things have returned closer to normal for him now. He's been able to work out full-speed since early summer. Coleman said he will still get treatment once a week for two years, spending 1-3 hours at St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., every Tuesday. He hopes in a few months to be getting them closer to Auburn.

"I should be on the way to 100 percent recovery," Coleman said. "Everything's going good. Doctors are saying everything's going better than they thought."

So well, in fact, he's hoping to enroll at Auburn in January and go through spring practice.

If doctors deem him not ready, the Tigers will still keep his scholarship on reserve, Taylor said. Taylor and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes regularly e-mail and call Coleman.

"All we do is think of him as part of our family," Taylor said. "He was an integral part of our recruiting class obviously. But he and his family were a bigtime inspiration for us."

He said Auburn's offensive coaches and their wives flew to Memphis to see Coleman and his family after he was diagnosed with cancer.

Along the way, they fretted over how to act, what to say, to the teenager who was tangling with something much tougher than any defensive end.

"If this was your son who was an All-American one day and the next day found out he had cancer, how would you handle it?" Taylor said. "Then we got there and it was like a family reunion at the hospital. His aunts were there, his grandparents were there, his mom was solid as a rock, his sisters. We just had a joyous time. It wasn't a sob story. The mom was upbeat."

Taylor keeps a reminder written on a board on his office of a Bible verse that was important to Coleman and his family: "Romans 8:28."

The verse, in part, reads "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him."

"They live by it and they stand by it every day," Taylor said.