Bond between seniors Nelson, Coleman grows, guides ASU football to uncharted territory
Robert Nelson and Davon Coleman were at hot yoga a couple weeks ago when it hit them.
There are no more second chances, no more looking ahead to their collegiate futures and no more promises of next year.
This is it for the two redshirt seniors, who realized their three seasons at ASU were coming to a close at their favorite place off the field — the yoga studio.
“When we are (at the studio) we feel so good and after we just chill and talk about everything,” Nelson said. “We were just like, ‘Man, these three years just went by so fast. It feels like we were just together for like a year. It feels like we just played three seasons in one year. It’s really coming to an end, man. I’ve really got to go all the way in. This is the real life.’”
Nelson and Coleman are no strangers to real life.
Both grew up in a rough area of their respective cities: Nelson in Lakeland, Fla., and Coleman in Cleveland, Ohio.
Neither started their careers at ASU, either.
Nelson played two seasons at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Coleman a season at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College before transferring west to play for then-ASU coach Dennis Erickson.
The two, with their similar backgrounds, instantly clicked upon arriving in Tempe and moved in with each other.
The summer before their first season with the Sun Devils wasn’t easy, though.
Financial aid had yet to kick in, and Nelson and Coleman struggled to eat at times, resorting to the typical college kid lifestyle.
“That was definitely a struggle,” Coleman said. “Eating Ramen noodles and all types of stuff like that is always a struggle.”
Coleman and Nelson pushed through.
Nelson had to redshirt in 2011 but Coleman played, recording his first career sack against Missouri and finished the season with 5.5 tackles for loss.
Erickson was fired after the 2011 season, and Todd Graham’s staff took over, a major change for both players.
The two continued to work nonetheless and co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph recognized Coleman’s effort.
“Davon has done a tremendous job of doing what we’ve asked him to do,” Randolph said. “The growth and maturity in the way he’s prepared has truly benefitted him.”
Both players had a breakout season in 2012, especially Coleman.
The big defensive lineman didn’t even start to begin the season but finished fifth on the team with 11 tackles for loss.
Meanwhile, Nelson made his first career start in 2012 against rival UA and made the most memorable play of his Sun Devil career to date.
Nelson intercepted a tipped pass from then-Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott with less than four minutes remaining in the game and returned it to the 1-yard line.
Who was the lead blocker on the return? None other than Nelson’s good buddy Coleman.
“Me lead blocking for him was perfect,” Coleman said with a smile.
Smiling is something Coleman does a lot, which caught the attention of redshirt senior cornerback Marlon Pollard, who transferred to the team this season.
Pollard said Coleman spent a lot of time with him last year during his official visit and the two have remained close ever since.
“Davon’s a really fun guy and really friendly and he embraced me when I was on my visit,” Pollard said.
Pollard didn’t know Nelson at first, but because he spent time with Coleman and is a cornerback, he grew close to Nelson, too.
“I didn’t meet Rob until I actually got here, but we are both corners and playing on the outside so we gravitated to each other,” Pollard said.
ASU is Pollard’s third school of his college career but admitted he’s never met guys like Coleman or Nelson.
“Those guys are unique,” Pollard said. “They definitely have their own personalities that you won’t find anywhere else, which is why I think they are so successful.”
Coleman's and Nelson's careers were most fruitful in 2013, but they didn't get off to the best start. Both players struggled to earn first-team reps in camp and Nelson barely earned the second starting corner spot.
“(Coleman) wasn’t starting in camp, I wasn’t starting in camp,” Nelson said. “We had one goal and he always kept me on my toes, and I always saw him reading scriptures, and our faith is so strong, so God has a plan for us, and that’s where we’re at right now.”
Coleman now leads the defensive front, stacked with players like redshirt senior lineman Will Sutton and redshirt junior Devilbacker Carl Bradford, with 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Coleman’s 3.5 tackles for loss against UCLA also led the Sun Devils, who clinched the Pac-12 South title for the first time in school history.
Nelson has been a key man, too. His six interceptions lead the team and his two-interception performance against OSU, which included the game sealing pick-six, earned him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Nelson and Coleman are now just one victory away from playing in the Rose Bowl, a far cry from where they were before ASU.
“It’s a big difference, it’s like a dream come true,” Nelson said. “(Coleman) coming from junior college, me coming from Louisiana-Monroe were some rough times for both of us, so just being at Arizona State is a blessing. We have this opportunity to play in a bowl game and to be in a big bowl game. We don’t have these kinds of opportunities in Monroe. I’m just happy I can share my story and Davon’s story and help my team.”
Before they can smell roses, there’s still work to be done.
Senior Day is Saturday against the Wildcats and the hot yoga conversation the two had, along with many others shared over the years, still pushes them to succeed.
“I think if I didn’t have those struggles, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Nelson said. “We talk a lot about everything. We have the mindset that this isn’t enough, and we want to go all the way. I’m glad we went through these things.”
Coleman agreed, saying he isn’t satisfied with just a Pac-12 South crown.
“We have a lot of those conversations,” Coleman said. “We have to take advantage of the opportunities we still have. We’ve both definitely invested a lot into this year and we’ve both worked very hard for ourselves.”
Randolph recognizes the effort both Coleman and Nelson have devoted to their final season and knows how special Saturday will be to them.
“It will be emotional,” Randolph said. “They’ve spent a lot of time here so I don’t think there’s any doubt it will be an emotional day for them.”
Pollard has had a front row seat to their 2013 success and couldn’t be any prouder.
“I’m just so proud of them knowing how much work they’ve put in,” Pollard said. “We are all seniors so it’s gratifying to see them succeed.”
Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, both Coleman and Nelson know they’ve made not only good teammates in each other, but good friends.
Nelson calls Coleman “one of my best friends on the team” and Coleman says Nelson is “my homie.”
Their bond is unbreakable, even if it does seem like the two met just yesterday.
“Three years went by so fast and for it to be almost over so fast is a crazy experience,” Coleman said. “I’m just grateful. Him by my side makes things a lot easier.”
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