Drew Coleman has found a Jets fan in an unusual location — Raguet Elementary School in Nagocdoches, deepintheheartofTexas.
The fan is fourth-grader Decorius Williams. His teacher is Melissa Roberts. And Roberts is Coleman's former classmate at Henderson High School, a half-hour drive away.
Drew, the Jets' third-year cornerback, picked up the story for newyorkjets.com.
"Melissa told me she had a 'school buddy' for me," Coleman said, referring to the program that pairs role models with students at the school. "I wouldn't say Decorius was struggling, but he had a little bit of a behavior problem. He just needed some positive in his life. Me and Melissa, we knew each other from high school and respected each other. When she called, I said I can come down in the off-season."
Roberts got Decorius' attention by telling him that if he got his grades up and his conduct under control, she had a surprise for him. When he pressed his teacher on the nature of the surprise, she provided more information.
"She said she knew a player who played in the NFL, and that if he was really good, the player would come visit him," Coleman said. "He wanted to know, 'What team does he play for? I hope he plays for the Jets."
Why the J-E-T-S? It turns out that young Decorius' interest in the Green & White, right in the middle of Texans and Cowboys country, had nothing to do with Coleman being from the area. When he was even younger, he and his father attended a Jets-Houston game.
Fans will recall the 2003 matchup, when Vinny Testaverde led the Jets back from a 14-0 second-quarter deficit to a 19-14 victory, secured on LaMont Jordan's late TD run, in their first-ever visit to Reliant Stadium. Decorius told the Daily Sentinel of Nacogdoches that he was impressed by this upstart green team coming in and coming back to beat the Texans on their home field, and that's when he became a fan.
And not just any fair-weather, faraway fan. He knew who Drew Coleman was, even though Coleman didn't become a Jet until the sixth round of the 2006 draft out of TCU. And so he knew the identity of the stranger who entered his and Ms. Roberts' classroom two months ago.
"As soon as I walked in, he knew who I was, what my uniform number was," Coleman recalled. "At first his jaw dropped. For a few minutes he stared at me up and down. Then he said, 'You're not as big in person.' "
Needless to say, Drew, at 5'9" and 175 pounds, loved hearing this. But he also loves working with kids back in his home area of East Texas. Several of his family and friends are teachers and he makes the rounds talking to schoolchildren about the importance of education in enjoying a successful life.
He concluded his day at Raguet by signing Decorius' Jets backpack and a photo, then talking to his new "buddy" and his classmates at an assembly. Since then, he checked on his buddy, who has indeed improved his grades and his behavior.
Eventually, of course, January turned into March, and Coleman has returned to the Jets' training complex. His participation in the off-season strength and conditioning program began this week, and his own education as an NFL player continues.
"I'm ready to get back at it," he said after his third session of the week today. "After the disappointing season we had, we can't wait to get back on the field and prove that we're better than we showed. We have to get faster and stronger and be more competitive."
Coleman also has hopes for his own game. As a rookie, he played in all 16 games and made three starts. Last season his defensive reps decreased as he made no starts and was deactivated for five games (although he did come up with his first pro interception at Miami).
"I think this is more of a growing-up year for me," he said. "I didn't look at it as a bad thing that I wasn't playing as much last year. I just took it that this was my role this year.
"But my main goal is just to get back and compete like I was my rookie year. I'm at a higher level now. This is my third season. I've seen a lot. I've just got to get my studying habits down and take it from the chalkboard to the field."
And when the Jets' vets get a break in the off-season program in April, Coleman has another assignment:
"I'm going to go back to school and have lunch with Decorius and see how he's doing."