Green Bay Packers 2017 Draft: Interview with CB Xavier Coleman
An aortic heart disease that required nine hours of open-heart surgery wasn’t enough to dissuade Xavier Coleman from working his way back into shape and strapping on the shoulder pads again to ultimately emerge five years later as one of the best-kept secrets of the upcoming draft.
Fresh off a successful pro day that saw the 5-foot-11, 190-pound cornerback post a 4.47 forty and dazzle NFL personnel on hand with a quantum leap of 40 inches in his vertical, Coleman’s name has been picking up steam.
The Portland, Oregon-born prospect fashions himself as an old-school cover specialist that prefers to suffocate his adversary in tight man coverage rather than employ a safer press-bail technique that typically affords a receiver more of an opportunity to haul in a short delivery in hopes of breaking a tackle and tacking on yards.
“Safe” isn’t part of Coleman’s vocabulary. On the field, he would much rather concede nothing and risk getting burned for a touchdown rather than allowing the opposing quarterback to nickel and dime his way down the field against a bend-don’t-break scheme.
Only two regular-season games at the high school level were enough for the Vikings to offer him a scholarship despite Coleman’s long layoff from football activities due to his previously-referenced circulatory issues .
Since then, the laser-focused rookie-in-training worked his way from serving as a standout special-teams performer as a freshman and went on to start 35 games and rank 5th all-time in pass breakups (32) in Portland State history along with recording 9 interceptions in his four seasons.
The psychology major capped off his college career as a 2016 1st Team All-Big Sky Conference honoree despite the weekly attempts on the part of the opposition to throw away from No. 38.
In his conversation with LombardiAve.com, Coleman came across as a bright and gregarious individual that’s ready to take the future on by the horns.
His mature tone and detailed responses are indicative of a man that has reflected long and hard about his future as a professional football player and isn’t just entering the draft for a big pay day or for the fame and accolades that come with making an NFL roster.
Coleman is putting his name out there because he craves the intensity and competitiveness of the sport in hopes of one day distinguishing himself as one of the great shutdown artists of the game.
He recounted his amazing comeback from a rare condition and shared how his methodical efforts in the film room have helped him to make it this far.
Turn the page for the aspiring pro in his own words …
Q: You primarily played basketball and ran track as a high school athlete. Why is it that you choose football?
A: That’s an interesting question because I actually didn’t play football throughout high school until the last two games of my senior year due to a heart condition. So, I had football taken away from me in high school, but I did play in middle school and I know that’s the sport that I loved. And when it was taken away, I felt pretty bad about it. I kept on with basketball and track, but once I got it back that senior year, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I knew it’s the sport I loved and wanted to pursue in college, even though I didn’t play for three years. Once I got back on the field, it was just like that’s where I belonged. That’s how I felt. Football was always the sport for me and I knew I wanted to pursue it in college.
Q: You mentioned your heart condition. What did that exactly involve?
A: Going into the senior year of high school, they repaired my aortic valve. My valve wasn’t functioning properly; it was leaking blood. So, once they repaired it, I was like, “So, can I go play football again?” The doctor cleared me, but it was a long procedure. It was a long and complicated process, but I’m proud to be where I am now.
Q: So, once you played those two games, I guess Portland State didn’t have any reservations about your health from that point forward. How did that go down?
A: With two regular-season games and four playoff games, I guess I did enough for Portland State to give me a scholarship. So, I took that when I heard they were going to offer me a ticket right there in order to continue playing the game.
Q: Your name has been coming up among the sleepers at the cornerback position. How do you stack up against some of the top dogs from LSU, Alabama, UCLA, etc.?
A: Athletically, I think I can compare with anyone in the country. You have some of those guys that are freaks that are putting up the same numbers I did. I think I stack up physically with anyone across the board. And off the field, it’s all just a mindset for me. I’ve seen people who aren’t very athletic and are extremely good at the game of football. Then you have you have those who are extremely athletic that aren’t. It’s just an instinct you have to have to play the game successfully and I think I have that instinct. When I’m on the field and I’m guarding a receiver and the ball is in the air—that’s my ball regardless of what receiver it is. That’s just the mindset I play with every down. Now, going up to this (the NFL) level, it’s more mental than anything. I think physically, I’m fine. But mentally is where my advantage is on the field.
Q: So, I take it that you consider yourself a student of the game. On that note, how much time do you put in watching film on the opposition on a weekly basis?
A: We obviously have our meetings and afterwards the cornerbacks get together as a position group and watch film by ourselves without coaches. So, yeah, I would definitely say I’m a student of the game. When I go into a game, I like to know a receiver’s tendencies, his habits, so that nothing surprises me. I go through every scenario possible before I enter the game, so nothing surprises me and I’m ready to attack at all times.
Q: So, the way you’re describing it, a lot of it is on you—the player—if you want to get better at the college level, correct?
A: Yes, exactly. You’re going to have your mandatory meetings. You’re going to have your mandatory workouts. Everyone goes through the same regimen. It’s the guys that put in the extra work in the weight room and stay later to put in some extra film work that are going to make it at the next level. I tried to make sure I put myself in that position as much as possible, so that I could succeed.
Q: You’ve played cornerback since middle school. This was always your position. What type of mentality is required to be an effective cornerback?
A: I wouldn’t just say cornerback; I would say [to play] defense in general, you need an extremely short memory. You can’t be on your heels. You’ve got to be attacking at all times. And speaking about the cornerback position, I would like to emphasize the short memory thing because you could play perfect defense 99 times…we always talk about this in the film room. In these 99 [reps], you might have a pick, 5 pass break-ups, but you give up one touchdown that wins the game and that’s what people remember. So, at corner I make sure I have a short memory and regardless of what happens, I always bounce back the next play and play just as hard.
Q: What type of corner were you in college more press-man or off-coverage?
A: I was a very physical press-man corner. That’s what I take pride in…being physical at the line of scrimmage, disrupting the receiver’s route and making a play on the ball downfield. Very, very rarely did I play off-man. If anything, the only time I was taken off was when the call was to play Cover-2 and I would bail out. But I would say about 90-percent of the time, I’m in press-man. Put me on an island, and that’s where I’ll feel most comfortable.
Q: In a recent interview I saw from about a year or two ago, I heard you say how much fun it was to play for Portland State. The Vikings went on to win 9 games in 2015, but only 3 this past season. What are the one or two things you’ll cherish most from your days in college and playing in the Big Sky Conference?
A: Just the relationships and the bonding that goes on with the guys around here for four years. I mean, you spend 90-percent of your time with these guys going through all types of similar things…6 a.m. weights, meetings and stuff till 10 p.m., so. These are the guys you’re going to be friends with for the rest of your life. If I remember anything, it’s the relationships and the bonds I have with my teammates for the rest of my days.
Q: How much did the fact that you were a combine snub motivate you?
A: I would say I walked around with a slight chip on my shoulder. I thought I did enough to be at the combine. But at the end of the day, I knew that if I had the talent and I would put up the right numbers that I would get the right exposure I needed just to get a chance. That’s all I’ve been saying—I just need a chance. I didn’t pay much attention to [the combine snub]. I mean, initially, I was kind of bummed about it because I thought if I put up the right numbers and with my film, I would get an opportunity. So, that’s all I really need.
Q: Moving over to your pro day, I would say you absolutely killed it. The 40-inch vertical was outstanding. I saw a bit of a smile on your face when you came down. Can you expound on that whole experience?
A: While I was training, I was at 39 ½”, so I was right at the brink of that. I wanted to get there, so I hit it. That was a great feeling. For that pro day, I went through eight weeks of intense training every day…you’re dieting…you’re training and doing everything right. So, going into pro day, I felt very prepared. I really didn’t have many nerves. I think I was just more excited about the day and wanted to get it going. I was very excited. I was prepared and it was just a fun time. I’ve just been enjoying this whole process. I had a really great day at pro day and I think it’s all because of my preparation to get to that point.
Q: Did you get an exact 40 time?
A: I was told it was a 4.47.
Q: What are your greatest strengths as a player?
A: My greatest strengths are to play press-man and my abilities to do that for a whole game. I mean, I did it four years through college, so you can count on me being on an island isolated and completely disrupting the receiver’s route. That’s what I’ve completely taken pride in every single year playing football. When the ball goes up in the air, I’m a ballhawk. Wherever the ball is, that’s where I’m going to be.
Q: You’re also known for being a team captain and leader. What does it mean to be a leader on and off the field?
A: It means a ton. I think a great point you made was [mentioning] “off the field.” When I see my teammates off the field and I don’t see things going right, I ‘ll let them know. And it’s not even just my teammates; it’s my little siblings. Everything I do off the field kind of helps me on the field. On the field, I lead more through my actions than by words. Before I had people that were so-called leaders that would talk a lot, but when it came time for real action, I didn’t see them. So, ever since then, I emphasized for myself that when I get on the field, I would lead by my actions and not with my words.
Q: Not a lot of people out east get to watch The Big Sky Conference. I know Cooper Kupp is someone you’ve probably faced a few times. What was it like to go up against a future NFL wideout?
A: Yeah, it was fun. It was always a game I was extremely excited for. Cooper is a great receiver; he runs very crisp routes and he has very sure hands. If the ball is anywhere in his arm length, he’s going to catch it. The Big Sky didn’t have the greatest receivers week to week, so when I got a chance to play against a very solid receiver like Cooper, I embraced that challenge. I always just had a great time. I’ve guarded that guy since I was a freshman until my senior year. So, every single year, I looked forward to guarding him.
Q: I’m sure going up against that level of athlete made you a better player as well.
A: Absolutely. Yeah.
Q: Talk about special teams. Did you have a lot of love for that part of the game?
A: I learned to love it. Going into my freshman year of college, all the coaches, my mentors said, “If you want to play in your freshman year, you must play special teams.” So, everything I focused on going into my freshman year was on special teams. I learned to fall in love with it and I’ve been in love with it ever since because it gave me an opportunity to play freshman year, sophomore year and every year down the line into my senior year.
Q: You have some notable ex-Vikings in the NFL in Julius Thomas and DeShawn Shead. Did you ever get a chance to pick their brain?
A: DeShawn Shead…minimally. He came over to our spring game, I believe that was going into my junior year. He kind of just coached the corners up throughout the whole game. So, I got to pick his brain, which was nice, but not Julius. I think I met him once, but it was nothing about football.
Q: Which team or teams have shown the most interest in you thus far?
A: I would say the Jets have shown the most interest in me since my pro day.
Q: Have you watched the Green Bay Packers at all and what are your overall impressions of the team?
A: I’ve watched a lot of Damarious (Randall) and Ladarius (Gunter), the two corners. I watched them quite a bit last season and they are young guys that have been in the league for a couple of years now. But I really like how they play. I like how they play in man coverage. They are very physical guys…they’re quick. [That’s] everything I aspire to be like and knowing I have a guy like Haha (Clinton-Dix) behind me, it would be a great experience. I watched them quite a bit and I like how they play. I know they struggled a bit in pass defense last year, but I mean, they’re young and the future is looking bright for them. They’re all going up from here.
Q: You’re a Portland guy, so I take it you were a Seahawks fan, correct?
A: I was never a massive Seahawks fan, but that’s the team I watched most because they were closest to Portland.
Q: Which cornerbacks are you a fan of at the next level?
A: I love how Josh Norman plays. I absolutely love how he plays. My man plays with a chip on his shoulder every single week. He’s not scared of anyone; he doesn’t back down. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. And when I talk about short memory, I watched him get scored on at the beginning of a game and then make a pick to win it. So, I love how that man plays.
Q: Ok Xavier, this is the part of the interview where I ask you some non-football questions. What is your favorite meal?
A: A perfectly cooked medium-rare steak from Ruth Chris. A filet mignon. That is my favorite meal by far.
Q: Yeah, I’m a fan of Ruth Chris myself. What is your favorite movie?
A: Friday Night Lights.
Q: Who is your favorite music artist?
A: I’m not huge on music, but if I had to pick one now, it would probably be J. Cole.
Q: Who is your favorite non-football athlete?
A: Connor McGregor for sure.
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Q: Are there any words that come to mind that best describe you on and off the field?
A: As an individual, I’m a leader and I’m passionate. As a player, I’m physical.
Ralph: Ok Xavier, thanks for giving me a few minutes.
Xavier: Awesome. Thank you for the time.