From 2002-05, there was no player Florida State looked to more often in short yardage situations than Tallahassee native and fullback James Coleman. Coleman finished his Florida State career with just a 2.6 yards-per-carry average, but scored seven touchdowns over his final two seasons including the lone Seminole touchdown in a 10-7 victory over Miami on Labor Day in 2005 to snap FSU’s 6-game losing streak to the Hurricanes.
“My junior and senior year, anytime it was 3rd-and-3 or less, I knew I was going to get the ball. It’s one of those experiences I’d never trade,” Coleman said. “The four games I played Miami before that were real close. Most we had an opportunity to win and couldn’t finish.”
A graduate of Florida High School in Tallahassee, Coleman grew up a Seminole fan and didn’t have to go far to play his college ball. Though he served mostly as a lead-blocker for future NFL backs in Leon Washington, Lorenzo Booker and Greg Jones, Coleman said playing linebacker in high school helped him prepare for the role of fullback and running backs coach Billy Sexton embraced that.
“Most of us played another position in high school and the way Billy Sexton taught it was kind of cool. He said treat it like you’re a linebacker and hit somebody,” he said. “You have to kind of have that bully mindset. I know nowadays that isn’t a popular thing to say, but it’s the truth.”
In his four years at Florida State, Coleman was a member of three ACC championship teams. Coleman played under legendary head coach Bobby Bowden and as so many have before, he said Coach Bowden seemed more concerned about developing great people than he was great players.
“Coach Bowden taught you how to live a certain lifestyle without cramming it down your throat. The way he talked to us was as if we were his son or grandson and not his employees,” Coleman said about his former head coach. “With Coach Bowden, it was more about winning the championship of life and not just a NCAA or ACC championship. I’m grateful for that opportunity, I just wish he was a little younger so my son could have that same opportunity.”
Coleman said he remains close to the Florida State program and his Alma mater. Over the last season and a half, the Florida State football program has been the recipient of less than favorable media coverage, but Coleman said that’s nothing new.
“We get a lot of negative publicity because of the type of kids we recruit. I heard Coach Bowden say before that he didn’t want country club kids. He wanted rednecks and he wanted inner-city guys because he knew that education would mean more to them and we were going to fight and be a scrappy bunch.
“He came in and instilled discipline in us and made us productive citizens and that’s what Jimbo’s (Fisher) doing now. When guys like that actively go into neighborhoods with people they look nothing alike, it helps break a barrier and ease the pain that some of us grew up in. As much as we like hearing about winners and the American way and people pulling themselves up by their bootstrap, they don’t like hearing about some of us from middle America being able to do that.”
Coleman said he recalled incidents from his freshman and sophomore years where seemingly minor events were exaggerated including one that forced Florida State’s starting quarterback to miss the Sugar Bowl following the 2002 season.
“When Chris Rix overslept for his test, they made it seem like Coach Bowden had a lack of institutional control because one guy made one mistake and it wasn’t even a big mistake. It was a university policy they put in years ago that’s no longer even there,” Coleman said. “ESPN and some media outlets feed off of having a villain and in some of our better years, we would feed off that. When we played Florida, we had the fight in 2003 and when we jumped on the middle of the field, they said that was the reason we fought not looking at the fact that FSU for 15 years had jumped on the middle of the field.”
After graduating early from FSU in December of 2005 with a degree in Social Science, Coleman served a brief stint in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints. Coleman said he wanted to find a way to help the youth and has worked as a human performance trainer for the last eight years.
“It’s a hard switch to be able to go from playing to not playing. Everyone has to hang up their cleats one day and it’s about how you leverage your career,” Coleman said. “Coach Sexton always told me that I should be a coach. I just wanted to be around some kids and be able to help them out and I started coaching them and I liked it.”
Over the last four years, Coleman has been the co-owner of Godspeed Elite Sports in Jacksonville with business partner Lonnie Marts, who spent 10 seasons playing linebacker in the NFL and started in more than 100 career games.
“We tell kids all the time that I played at a big time program and he played at Tulane in the late ’80s and it wasn’t that big a program. He played 10-plus years in the NFL and I got a cup of coffee,” Coleman said. “It doesn’t matter where you go, but how you make the most of your opportunity.”
Coleman was adamant that being a performance trainer is quite different from being a personal trainer.
“Personal trainers work at Gold’s Gym and either they’re really skinny or they look like meat-heads and I’m neither one of those,” Coleman said. “I deal mainly with treating the body and making it more athletic whether you’re 8 or 88.”
Coleman said there is a wide range of customers that come into his gym from high school students looking to develop into college-level athletes to adults looking to get in better shape.
“With my athletes, they all want to get faster. We’re in Florida, nobody recruits us because we’re the biggest or strongest guys, they recruit us because we’re the fastest guys. I work with a lot of technique on how to make people faster and more explosive.
“With adults, I work with posture doing things in similar ways which helps aid them in confidence. It’s not about playing on ESPN or having all those things, it’s about the confidence that gets instilled and being able to have a focus and be able to achieve a goal. It’s injecting into them what was injected into me when I was at FSU, but now I’m being able to get paid for it.”
Coleman said Godspeed Elite will host 25 performance camps across the Southeastern United States this year. He said he has enjoyed seeing kids improve while working with him and for some, it’s paid huge dividends.
“I like the interaction I have with the kids and them being able to pick it up,” Coleman said. “I’ve had 500 athletes from various sports go Division I and I’ve had 50 All-Americans out of that.”
In addition to being a former starter at Florida State and a business owner, Coleman is also a family man. He’s been married to wife T.J., a tenant in the U.S. Army, for five years. The two have an 18-month-old son named Trey, who might just be the next member of the Coleman family to don the garnet and gold.
Follow former Florida State fullback James Coleman on Twitter @njoidaview.