MOBILE, Ala. — Four days after losing one defensive standout to the NFL draft, Auburn retained another.
Defensive end Antonio Coleman said he will return to Auburn for his senior season Saturday at a press conference at Williamson High School, his alma mater.
“They’re going to look at me as a leader and I’m going to try to lead the best I can, try to be one of the best leaders in the country,” said Coleman, a first-team all-SEC pick after finishing with six sacks and 10 1/2 tackles for a loss last season. “If you have a great leader, then everybody behind you will follow.”
Coleman said he was leaning toward leaving for the NFL in the days after Tommy Tuberville resigned early last month, but subsequent meetings with new head coach Gene Chizik — including a meeting on New Year’s Day — helped change his mind.
Chizik was Auburn’s defensive coordinator during Coleman’s initial recruiting process, before the coach left for Texas prior to the 2005 season.
“I just wanted to get with him and feel him out and see what direction this program is going in,” Coleman said. “I want to be the guy to help turn it around and get things working in the right way.”
Dressed in a tie and white sweater vest and sitting beside his mother, Orvia, Coleman built up some suspense at the start of the press conference, thanking his Auburn and high school coaches before announcing his decision to return to school.
As a small crowd of friends and family cheered in the background, Coleman reached into his book bag and removed a defensive hard hat emblazoned with the Auburn logo, placing it on the table in front of him.
His return is a boost for a Tigers defensive line that already lost all-SEC honorable mention tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, who announced his intentions to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft on Tuesday.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers, another early-entry candidate, has not made an announcement yet.
“I hope he’s coming back,” Coleman said. “I’m going to try to call and get him to come back.”
Coleman, who finished his bachelor’s degree in criminology in December, submitted his name last month to the NFL draft advisory committee, which evaluates a player and returns a draft round grade. Coleman said the committee told him he could be a second- or third-round pick.
Chizik told Coleman he could be a first-round pick if he came back for another season at Auburn.
“He was straight with me, blunt about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to turn this program around,” Coleman said. “He said I could be the face of Auburn. I hope to do big things and be remembered forever at Auburn University.”
Coleman’s decision helped Auburn secure another commitment. Three-star Williamson High defensive lineman Terrance Coleman, Antonio’s nephew, re-affirmed his commitment to the Tigers on Saturday. The 2009 recruit wavered after Tuberville resigned last month.
That will make four Williamson High players on Auburn’s roster next year. The Colemans are joined by junior college defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a high school teammate of Antonio who signed a letter of intent shortly before Christmas, and wide receiver LaVoyd James, another 2009 recruit.
“It’ll feel like a big, happy family with Williamson guys,” Antonio said. “That’s what we’re trying to make it up there — a Williamson tradition.”