It was a Saturday morning in April right outside Charlotte, NC at Johnson C. Smith University where JuniorRank and myself first met 17-year-old Schuyler Coleman. JuniorRank was hosting a 2 day camp in part of it’s 20 city Diamond Flight Camp Series. With about 120 student athletes in attendance it was the offensive and defensive line that stood out. The offensive line alone had 15 lineman who averaged 6’4” 285 lbs and the biggest lineman of them all was Schuyler at 6’7” 345 lbs.
JuniorRank puts on these camps to help gain exposure to athletes for colleges and invite top prospects from all over the country to compete. In some cases we have heard about certain athletes however in Schuyler’s case we didn’t know much about him except what we saw in front of us. In fact this was Schuyler’s first football camp he’s ever been too and the main thing on his mind was he didn’t want to embarrass himself.
Schuyler doing 1 on 1 challenge at The Charlotte Diamond Flight Camp
“The camp was scary for me as I didn’t know what to expect and when I saw how big the rest of the lineman were," says Schuyler. "I was thinking I know I’m good but these guys might be better than me. I knew I had to give it my all and I performed better than I thought I would. The camp gave me a lot of confidence."
I could see the confidence growing in him as well and he continued to surprise and impress the coaches all weekend. Let’s be honest it’s easy to be impressed with an offensive tackle who is 6’7” 345 lbs but it takes more than just being a big lineman who takes up space. Watching Schuyler in agility drills and 1 on 1’s he showed very quick feet for his size in fact he had the best footwork out of the entire lineman. He moved well laterally and if he got his arms on you, you weren’t going anywhere. Take a look at his highlight film and you can see exactly what we saw. It was clear there were mass amounts of potential in this young man and the coaches and myself were thinking how is this guy flying under the radar?
It was during a break in the camp where we got a chance to speak to Schuyler and express how impressive he was and talked to him about his recruiting. With only letters of interest from a hand full of DII and a few Division 1 schools we realized where they may be some hesitation in college coaches offering right away. Schuyler’s left knee looked like they have been cut open a dozen times and he claims he has had numerous surgeries. What has happened to this young man where his knee looked this? After talking some more I learned that since he was in middle school he had to overcome plenty of obstacles to play the game of football.
“When I was a kid I didn’t like football," added Schuyler. "I was lazy and liked playing video games. My parents were getting on me to start playing sports and all my friends were on the team so I didn’t want to be that lazy kid who never did anything.”
Schuyler in junior high before surgery
Just as Schuyler started to enjoy football he faced the possibility of never playing the game again. As he got older and kept growing he was diagnosed with Blount’s Disease. The disease occurs in young children and adolescents and it is where the inner part of the shin bone, just below the knee fails to develop normally and causes sever bowing of one or both legs. The cause of the disease is unknown but is thought to be due to effects of weight on the growth plate. Schuyler’s left leg began to start bowing and surgery was needed.
His right leg was growing and his left leg wasn’t so they had to put a plate in his right leg and do a procedure known as lengthening. I’ll try to explain this the easiest way I can and give you an idea how painful this can be. They had to cut the bone in his left leg and put pins in his leg. Then doctors had to place an external metal brace attached to the pins in his leg and over time it will pull the cut bone apart which will create space for a new bone to fill. After a successful surgery Schuyler was placed in a wheelchair for 8 months and after that would have to learn how to walk again. He stood 5’11” at this time and doctors weren’t expecting him to grow after 14 so there assumption was this surgery would be his first and his last. To be safe they put metal plates in his knees so he would stop growing. This surgery occurred in June of 2007, the summer before 8th grade.
Let’s fast forward to February of 2008. Schuyler has started his rehab and learning to walk again. The rehab lasted about 3 months and after finally getting the strength back in his legs football was about to start.
“Rehab was tough but I knew it was something I had to do and of course I wanted to walk again," said Schuyler. "I was hoping to try and play football again too. My parents were very supportive of me throughout the whole process and encouraged me to keep playing so their support really helped me keep going.”
Schuyler was ready to put the pads on again and start his high school career at East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte. Things were looking up and then Schuyler had an unexpected growth spurt.
“That summer I grew to 6’1”and my legs broke the knee plates that were suppose to stop me from growing. From there they just replaced the plates and since the surgery wasn’t too severe I was actually able to play freshman year.”
Freshman year wasn’t so stellar for Schuyler. He wasn’t the most athletic kid and wasn’t in the best shape. Schuyler would attest to himself not being too impressive on the field.
“I wasn’t very good at all, I guess I was still building strength in my legs and just wasn’t very productive that year. I was also only 6’1” so I didn’t think football would be a future for me and I didn’t take it too seriously”
Even though at the time it may not have been a future for him he continued to work hard and get stronger. Freshman year may not have been the most productive from a football standpoint but in Schuyler’s case there was always next year.
Schuyler and his Mother
That winter Schuyler would receive some devastating news. This time it had nothing to do with his legs or other health problems. Schuyler and his family learned that his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Hearing she had breast cancer was one of the toughest things for me," said Schuyler. "I’m a momma’s boy and she was always there for me throughout my surgeries. Seeing her struggle was very hard and knowing that she was there for me through all my struggles I just had to be strong for her and help anyway I could.”
It was clear Schuyler’s sophomore year would be his toughest yet. He still faced his own personal health problems and now he had to watch his mom go through treatments and try to fight this horrible disease.
Sophomore year started and at the time Schuyler continued to grow even though doctors didn’t think he would. He was 6’3” going into that football season. Even though football was the last thing on his mind compared to what was going on with his family he thought it would be a good idea to keep playing. At the beginning of the season Schuyler saw a lot of playing time and there seemed to be some upside in his football career. However as Schuyler continued to grow so did the problems in his legs. He suffered knee injuries that would force him to miss some time. The young man just couldn't catch a break.
“Basically my right leg was longer than my left leg as I kept growing and it was causing hip problems. My knees couldn’t take it at that point and I just couldn’t play. I still dressed for the games because I wanted to support my teammates but I knew I wasn’t going to get any playing time.”
As Schuyler’s opportunity to play that season was lost, his mother was losing her battle too. On October 15th 2009 the woman who cheered for him on the sidelines every game and held his hand after every surgery lost her battle with cancer. Schuyler clearly has had his misfortunes growing up but the loss of his mother is what hurt the most.
“Losing her was a big thing for me," added Schuyler. "After she passed there wasn’t a night where I didn’t cry, it was horrible. It never leaves and it always hurts. I was very depressed and knew there was going to be some dark times ahead.”
Schuyler had to lean on the support of his father and his two siblings now. Growing up Schuyler and his father, Charles Coleman had a good relationship but he says they never had a true father son relationship.
“My mother was the glue that held the family together. When she passed I was afraid our family could fall apart but we all got closer. My brother and sister were always a good support system and now my father and I couldn’t be closer. I look at him as a best friend now."
Schuyler would need the support of his family more than ever as 3 weeks after his mother passed he would have to have another surgery. This surgery would be crucial as Schuyler was starting to wobble when he walked and since he continued to grow his hips were uneven due to one leg growing and the other not. Going into that surgery there was another complication as his father would have to find a way to pay for it. In years past his mothers insurance would cover the surgeries due to her being a postal worker and having government insurance. Schuyler's dad who has been through a lot himself had to find a way to help his son out.
"After losing my job and home we moved to Charlotte," said Charles Coleman. "Then my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and now Schuyler needed surgery. It was all very tough but as a disabled veteran it was a blessing to have the Department of Veteran Affairs to help me through my struggles and pain during this trying time."
“We were struggling financially after my mom died. My dad sacrificed a lot for me and if I never had this surgery I wouldn’t be able to walk in my 20s. I was very heavy at the time and with my growth spurt my legs couldn’t hold my weight. My legs would have snapped if I didn’t get it done," said Schuyler.
Schuyler would have to have his femur replaced with a metal rod and had screws and pins in his hip to keep it in place. This surgery again would put him in a wheelchair, this time for 7 months.
After a successful surgery Schuyler faced the reality of losing his mother and being in a wheelchair all in a span of a month. I want to remind you that this all happened in the middle of a school year so Schuyler missed a lot of school from being in the hospital with his mom and post surgery. He did do home school during this time but his grades really suffered. He missed a total of 60 days between his mom passing and his surgery. The school year was winding down and Schuyler was still in a wheelchair and trying to catch up with school. His schoolwork suffered so bad that he was actually kicked out of East Mecklenburg.
“It was an unfortunate situation and I honestly felt mistreated," said Schuyler. "They knew my situation with my mom and my surgery but still didn’t help me out. It was very hard for me to catch up on schoolwork and even though I did technically pass my sophomore year I was still kicked out,” said Schuyler.
That summer he would have his last surgery as they removed the brace outside his leg and he began rehabbing and getting the strength to walk again. While rehabbing Schuyler also had to decide to be home schooled or attend First Assembly Christian School in Concord, NC. He decided to attend First Assembly as he thought it would be a fresh start for his academics and football career. He also liked that the head coach for First Assembly was former NFL player Mike Minter and thought it would help him get some college looks.
“Going in that first year they knew my situation and really accepted me and helped me a lot. It was my first year off surgery so it was a struggle for me. I wasn’t doing well in school to start off but the teachers and coach Minter really supported me and helped out.”
Schuyler playing for First Assembly Christian School
On the football side Schuyler now was 6’6” and was realizing with his size he could turn things around and become a talented football player. His legs were getting stronger and though not 100% physically he was working hard on improving his game. The first couple games for him were rough. He wasn’t playing as well as he hoped and with everything that has happened with him he started to lose motivation to play the game.
It was Friday October 15th, 2010 the one-year anniversary of Schuyler’s mother’s death. First Assembly was playing Southlake that night and in support of Schuyler, First Assembly held breast cancer awareness day. This day would turn out to be the motivation Schuyler needed after a year of grieving.
“It was a very emotional day and I just remember going into the football game before we went on the field coach Minter was talking to us and he said we are playing this game for Schuyler’s mom. We all started walking out and I just started crying and had to walk off and go back to the locker room. Coach came in and asked if I was all right and told me to come out when I was ready. I stayed in there for like 5 minutes and was just crying to myself. I really had no motivation until that game and after sitting there by myself I told myself I’m going to use my knee surgeries and my moms passing as motivation. I got up and walked to the field, started stretching and when the game began something clicked and I had my best game.”
First Assembly went on to win that game and Schuyler helped out with getting 7 pancakes. It finally gave Schuyler the confidence and most importantly the motivation to play the game.
“I’ll always call that game my moms game as it reminds me what I’m playing for. At the time I didn’t have anything to think of during games but when I got to the line that game I imagined that guy in front of me was breast cancer and I just wanted to destroy it. It’s a big motivation now when I get to the line as I think of all that I’ve been through with my injuries and my mom.
Although a rough start to the year Schuyler finished off strong as he ended the year with 18 pancakes and momentum going into next season. His academics on the other hand were still a problem. His grades would not allow him to pass his junior year. Due to his situation First Assembly allowed him to repeat the junior year, this was another wake up call for Schuyler.
“That whole year with school was tough for me. I always had my mom helping me with homework and maybe I used that as an excuse but I knew going into my second junior year I had to grow up and start becoming mature and doing what I have to do to pass. I’m grateful First Assembly was supportive and gave me a second chance.”
Now going into his second junior year at First Assembly Schuyler was ready to turn it around and get his grades in order and start to become a force on the football field. He was going into the season feeling 85-90% and hoping to get the attention of colleges. The excitement for the upcoming season took a sudden halt as his old head coach Mike Minter had decided to leave the school. A decision Schuyler says really hurt his recruiting chances.
“I was coming off a strong finish and coach Minter was a big part of that. He didn’t really tell anyone he was leaving until right before the year started. If I knew he was leaving I would have probably thought of going to another school. He was a guy who would have picked up the phone for me but the new coaches didn’t really express any interest in calling colleges for me.”
The season started and Schuyler knew if he wanted to get attention of scouts he had to do it on the field. He did just that as he had a breakthrough year this past season. He was building up his speed and endurance and felt as strong as he’s ever felt. He would finish the year almost doubling his pancakes from the previous season with 34. He would end up getting on the all-conference and all-state ballot. Even though he didn’t receive enough votes to make either it was motivation for him to make both this upcoming football season. As far as recruiting goes there still wasn’t much interest coming his way and he felt it was time for a change.
“It was frustrating especially coming off a good year not hearing anything from colleges. The first college coach I met and spoke too was at Gardner-Webb when I went and visited my sister. That spring of my junior year I started attending combines and it was at a local combine where I met the coaches for Davidson Day School and they told me they were really impressed with my performance and said a lot of good things about their school. After speaking with them and talking with my dad I decided I would transfer to Davidson Day as it would be the best move to help me get into college.”
Schuyler at the Charlotte Diamond Flight Camp
This leads us to the Charlotte Diamond Flight Camp and seeing Schuyler for the first time. After another strong performance that weekend Schuyler took home the Excellence in Leadership Award at the JuniorRank camp for displaying leadership on and off the field. It was another accomplishment for him after such a long road to this point. After seeing him perform well at the camp JuniorRank has picked up the phone and told college scouts and coaches they need to take a look at Schuyler Coleman. Schuyler will also be competing in JuniorRank's Prodigy Camp in Naples, FL on July 26-28th. Schuyler has recently received his first letters of interest. Those schools include UNC, Maryland, NC State, South Carolina, and UNC Chattanooga. The idea of getting a scholarship was becoming a reality.
There is still some work to be done for Schuyler to achieve his goal of playing college football. Although coaches see the potential in him they tell him things he needs to work and improve on.
“A big thing is coaches want to see how I perform the first couple games of this season. A lot of schools will start offering after those first few games. A positive thing is they love my feet for my size but they would like me to get down to 320 lbs and get more upper body strength. I’ve been working out 5-6 days a week this summer and I honestly feel 100%. It’s crazy to think after all the years watching college football I didn’t think I would be in the situation where that could be me someday. It went from going to any school that would offer to now I have choices of where to go. I’m truly blessed.”
Hearing his story you can’t help but root for Schuyler. In a span of 4 years he has gone through 5 surgeries, had to basically learn how to walk again twice, and lost his mother to breast cancer. Now at 6'7" 345 lbs and healthy he is on his way to being one of the top offensive lineman in North Carolina. It's been an exciting time for Schuyler and his family and his father couldn't be prouder of what his son has been able to accomplish.
"Seeing my son excel in football seems like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. After my wife passed away seeing Schuyler do well in football is what she always wanted," said Charles.
It has truly been a long and bumpy road for Schuyler and he would be the first to tell you that he believes he can be one of the best lineman in the country and that if you really want something you have to put in the work.
“With everything I’ve gone through and seen my mom go through failure isn’t an option for me. At the end of the day there could always be someone who could be better than you and I’m not trying to be second. I’m trying to be the best I can as a person and an athlete. A lot of things have gone bad for me in my life and the way I look at it is the only place I can go is up.”
Written by Terry Schilling
Follow on Twitter @tschill86