Lanier Coleman is a 26-year-old rookie trying to make the Jets after more than three years out of football. It is a second chance for the massive defensive lineman after he thought his playing days were done.
Coleman was invited to Vikings minicamp in 2009 after a solid career at Louisiana-Lafayette. He did well in minicamp but not enough to earn an invite to their training camp a month later so Coleman packed his bags and returned to Louisiana to coach high school football. The following spring he played in the Arena Football League, but figured he had hung up the helmet and pads for good when he took an intern position at Louisiana-Lafayette in their weight room.
He stocked protein, racked the weights and cleaned the weight benches. In short, he did the grunt work around the weight room, but he ended up falling in love with the job. He always pictured himself as a coach “but I really got into the intensity and passion of the weight room.”
His thankless efforts did not go unnoticed and in the spring of 2010, Coleman went to Rice University in Houston where he served as assistant strength coach for baseball, football, golf, tennis and swimming. He began to learn more about handling athletes and training them in addition to the administrative side of things. When an opportunity came along a year later to take a similar position at Cal, Coleman hopped on board.
It was there that Chris DiSanto, the Golden Bears’ assistant strength and conditioning coach who is now with the Browns, noticed Coleman’s passion for the game.
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“I was at practice, getting excited about practice, jumping around and one of my coworkers, Mr. DiSanto, said that ‘I can tell you still have a fire for this game.’ My thing was, I didn’t have any connections,” Coleman said.
It had been three years since Coleman had played in the Arena Football League and four years since he stepped foot on a football field at the NFL level in Minnesota’s minicamp. His defensive line coach at the Vikings was Karl Dunbar, who became the Jets’ defensive line coach last year. DiSanto pushed Coleman to reach out and see if any opportunities existed.
Coleman felt if he had made an impression on Dunbar four years ago he would have heard from the respected position coach already. He hadn’t, so he assumed Dunbar wouldn’t be interested.
“I felt like if coach Dunbar wanted me, he’d seek me out. But Mr. DiSanto said that I should reach out, show him that I want it,” Coleman said. “So I reached out to him and he reached out to me and we talked. I was shocked because I figured he’d be swamped with people wanting to get to him and he wouldn’t have the time for me. He told me he might have an opportunity for me but that I’d have to bring my A game.
“He was very honest with me. That’s the great thing about him. He’s not only a great coach, he’s a great man as well.”
So Coleman packed his bags and headed to New Jersey as a tryout player in the Jets’ rookie minicamp. Nothing was guaranteed but it was an opportunity he had to take.
It was a worthwhile gamble as he impressed the Jets, especially on the second and third day of minicamp. He played inside at the 3-technique but showed great pursuit and chased down the ball from sideline-to-sideline. Not surprisingly, conditioning wasn’t an issue for him. After the morning workout he looked like he wanted to go out for an afternoon session as well.
That Sunday, the Jets called Coleman up to their office and based off his performance he was offered a contract. It was the contract that had eluded him four years earlier and had led him down this path, from high school football coach to college intern to assistant strength coach.
And now, maybe he will have a spot as an NFL player.
“The huge thing was my effort, my effort and learning the defense as quick as I did; that’s what they liked. The first day was a struggle but the thing was my effort. It stuck out. That’s one thing I’ve always hung my hat on is my work ethic,” Coleman said. “Now I need to make them believe that I’m a great football player as well. It’s been a long way to get here. I just want to help them win games however I can.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for live updates and photos from Jets minicamp this week.