Auburn, Ala.--In March 2010, Olive Branch, Miss., offensive lineman Shon Coleman’s world turned upside down.
Instead of preparing to enroll at Auburn, where he had committed to play football, Coleman found himself in a battle for his life after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
That April he began undergoing intensive treatment that required four to five trips a week to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
The new treatment St. Jude used beat back the cancer that had invaded 60 percent of the cells in his body. Within two weeks of starting treatment doctors were astounded to find no cancerous cells in Coleman’s blood.
The cancer has stayed in remission ever since.
Coleman joined his teammates in January 2011 when he enrolled at Auburn and started classes, but it would take more than a year before he could join them on the football field.
This week Coleman got the news he was waiting to hear when he was told he had been cleared to play football for the first time as a collegian.
Coleman’s mother, De Keishia Tunstall, received a call this week from the Auburn coaching staff to inform her of the good news.
“You know, I really thought that we were probably still snagged up a little bit so when they said that everything was in order, I was just really, really happy,” Tunstall said. “It was really a great time, great phone call. Amazing, that’s all I can say.”
Clearance was granted after guidelines to ensure Coleman’s safety were established, Tunstall said.
“We were basically trying to put together a game plan on things that they needed to look for as far as if he were to get hurt or something like that, symptoms and things like that, to keep an eye out for to make sure he stays safe while he plays,” she said.
Coleman participated in his first practice as an Auburn Tiger on Wednesday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Tunstall, who has seen pictures of her son from his first practice, said it’s hard for her to put what she feels into words.
“I am elated,” she said. “Today has actually been one of the happiest days of my life.”
Coleman hasn't played football since January 2010 when he competed in the U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio.
Fellow Auburn teammate Jeffrey Whitaker didn’t know Coleman would participate until he stepped out on the field for practice.
“It was a big surprise, and Coleman is not a big guy that’s just going to come out and say this and say that,” said Whitaker, who was part of Coleman’s signing class and played with him in the 2010 U.S. Army All-American high school all-star game. “He’s just going to sneak up on you and surprise you.
“I’m just rooting for him, whatever he does, football or not, whatever,” added Whitaker. “I still love Shon the same way when he wasn’t even out here. He’s our brother.”
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik described Coleman as being excited about being able to play football again and his mother said that is the case. “Shon is a man of few words,” she said. “Without him saying a whole lot, I knew that he was so excited about it.”
Coleman is shown at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game in Mobile.
Coleman has been receiving checkups about every eight weeks and still has a few months of treatment left, but his long trek of recovery is almost complete.
“I’m so proud of Shon,” said his mother. “He was patient and never complained. He just went through the process like a trooper. I’m so proud of him. I can’t even say that enough just how proud I am of him.”
Tunstall said she can’t wait to get to Auburn on Saturday to see her son at the annual A-Day game.
“I’m counting the days down,” she said. “I was going to come anyway, but now that he’s able to participate, it makes it even more meaningful for us.”
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