Updated May 21, 2006 12:37:05
Louisiana Tech's Coleman Beginning Great College Career
RUSTON, La. -- They called him "The Jet" in high school.
He's 2006 Western Athletic Conference men's Freshman of the Year Michael Coleman, a hometown product who ran 21.21 seconds for the individual championship in the men's 200 meter dash.
His high school peers knew his talent and saw how fast he ran and gave him to nickname. When he came to college, his sprint coach had a different idea.
"He got the nickname "The Jet" in high school," Tech assistant track coach Shawn Jackson said. "When he got to college, I started to call him "Big Wheel." I told him he'd have to work hard to earn "The Jet" back."
There's little difference when Michael tells the story.
"When they gave me the name "Big Wheel," I knew I was going to have to work hard to earn "The Jet" back," Coleman said. "When I first got to Tech, I wasn't running as fast as I was in high school. It's important to me because it makes me want to work hard and run harder to get my nickname back."
Michael put together a great outdoor season and had a notable second place finish at the Mississippi State Invitational at 10.69 in the men's 100. In the 100-meter preliminaries of the 2006 WAC Championships, he ran the fastest time at 10.51 and ran a 10.54 for a second place finish in the finals before his remarkable 21.21 run in the finals of the 200 for the championship.
Given Michael's performances since he's been at college, it would seem he had been running track his entire life, which is not the case. Michael didn't start running track until his junior year of high school.
"I started to run so I could make myself better in football and try to get scholarships," Coleman said. "People kept telling me I was too small to be a good receiver, but I then began to realize that track would work. I went from 22 seconds my junior year of high school (in the 200) to 21.40 when I was a senior. I dropped almost a second in one year. I figured I should stick with track. I know the 200 is my strength, but I also like to run the 100. That's what people watch. I like to make crowds say "whoa" and "wow"."
Tech head coach Gary Stanley compared Michael's rise to conference champion to that of the legend of the phoenix.
"Mike didn't even qualify for the state meet (in high school)," Stanley said. "This is truly a success story of athlete as well as Coach Jackson's coaching ability. Mike's personal best times have constantly dropped since he's been here. This guy was the WAC Freshman of the Year and didn't even make the state meet in high school. That's remarkable. You have to look at the coaching on that as well. His 21.21 is very fast."
Jackson said having Michael come to Tech really demonstrates that local kids that excel in athletics do not have to go off to some big school. They can stay home and compete on a national level.
"I think it's huge because Ruston High has had such good athletes," Jackson said. "To be able to get a local kid like Mike and have the success that he's had, it shows you don't have to go far away to some big school to accomplish your goals. You can do it right here at Louisiana Tech."
Michael said he remembers the championship run well and that he couldn't believe at the time that he was going to win.
"As I was running, I noticed that I was in front," Coleman said. "I was thinking to myself that this wasn't supposed to be happening. So I looked behind me and realized I was in front and just threw my hands up in the air, and I knew I was the champion."
His championship wasn't the only award he got that night in Honolulu.
"After he went out and won the 200, he asked me if I could call him "The Jet" again," Jackson said with a smile on his face. "I told him he could be "The Jet" for the rest of that day."