Why Michigan State football WR Keon Coleman feels one-sport focus this winter will pay off
EAST LANSING — Tom Izzo walked into Michigan State basketball’s practice facility in late December to a surprise: Keon Coleman.
A month after the Spartans’ football season ended, days after Christmas, the wide receiver made a quick return from his home in Louisiana to prepare for a second winter with Izzo’s hoops squad.
It lasted a week. That’s when Coleman listened to the one person whose opinion mattered most on whether he could sustain his two-sport college career, the only one who could make the decision.
“After that week, I just had a real sit-down with myself,” Coleman recalled Tuesday. “Like, yeah, I can go help (the basketball team). But how much would I be hurting myself without getting healthy? So I was like, just get back healthy and then just get back to football. That's pretty much all I could do.”
Coleman said he battled a partial muscle tear near his hip flexor, near the groin, throughout the fall and that was aggravated in the final football game of 2022 against Penn State on Nov. 26. After resting for a month, he planned to rejoin Izzo’s team as a reserve walk-on guard, as he did the season before.
Instead, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Coleman turned his attention to his upcoming junior season in football and his first spring practice with coach Mel Tucker’s program since arriving in the fall of 2021. It meant walking away from basketball, a sport he loved and wanted to keep playing, but it came down to one thing.
“Getting my body right after being banged up for a majority of the season,” Coleman said. “So just making sure I was healthy coming into spring. So that's pretty much it. ... At the end of the day, your body is your business. That's where your money comes from.”
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And this could be a big money-making season for Coleman, who emerged as MSU’s No. 2 target last season behind Jayden Reed. Particularly early in the fall, with Reed battling nagging injuries, Coleman showed big-play ability and ended up leading the Spartans with 58 catches for 798 yards and seven touchdowns.
Coleman would be eligible to leave after this season for the NFL draft. And with Reed in this year's NFL draft, a bigger season could allow Coleman to follow suit next spring.
“He's off to a tremendous start this spring. He's had a great first seven days,” offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said Tuesday after MSU’s practice. “I expect huge things from Keon. And I think he expects it and I think our team expects it. And I think he's OK with that expectation, so I’m very excited about him.”
Instead of simulating opponents’ plays on Izzo’s scout team like last March, Coleman has been focused on his route-running and timing with Thorne and the other quarterbacks.
“And then we've been able to watch some film together,” quarterback Payton Thorne said earlier this month. “He'll send me some plays on like Instagram sometimes that people are running. Like, 'Hey, we should try this, this and this.' So he's definitely all in on football right now, which is good, and I'm excited to keep working with him.”
Thorne pointed to Coleman’s winter in the weight room as a boost as well. The significant amount of running involved in college basketball training often causes players to lose weight during a season, which complicates attempts at gaining mass necessary for playing football.
Simply from an eye test Tuesday, Coleman — already a physically gifted athletic specimen — appears to have put on more muscle to his upper body, which will help him shed one-on-one coverage and pull away more 50-50 throws in the fall.
“That was one of the perks of it, and I knew that going in,” Coleman said of quitting hoops. “You don't lift as heavy and as often with the high velocity that you do in football. You're playing every two days, you're traveling so you leaving a little early. So I mean, I understood that.”
As for focusing solely on football, “You get every day pretty much to just perfect your craft and just work at that every hour of the day that you're not doing schoolwork and not doing meetings and lifting.”
That meant avoiding watching college hoops or going around Breslin Center during the season. As hard as it was for Coleman.
“I just tried to keep myself busy with football so I didn't think about it as much,” he said.
Coleman also said his “body feels great now” and he’s back to 100% healthy as Tucker’s program hits the midpoint of the 15 spring practices, which will culminate with the spring game April 15 at Spartan Stadium. And the wideout looked inside him for his biggest goal, and it’s helping the Spartans recover from last year’s disappointing 5-7 season that ended without a bowl game.
And it starts with another internal dialogue: “Just be the best Keon Coleman I can be. And just do the normal things I always do.”
“Everybody has like that extra chip on his shoulder. And the things we go through in the offseason as a team, it helps us want to play even harder for the guy next to us,” Coleman said. “You can dig internally. But when you feel what the next guy is going through, you kind of want to go the extra mile for that guy.
“So coming out that 5-7 season, we're looking to go undefeated and win some games. Pretty much, that's about it.”
Contact Chris Solari: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.
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Next up: Spring game
What: MSU spring game.
When: April 15, time TBA.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Michigan State football's Keon Coleman dropped basketball