TUSCALOOSA — Had the plan followed it’s original draft, B.J. Coleman’s trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium would be history by now.
He would still be a quarterback at Tennessee — possibly a starter — as it started the rebuilding project under Lane Kiffin.
That plan, however, took a hard turn seven months ago.
Coleman is still coming to Tuscaloosa, but he’ll do it with a different school in his home state. Instead of leading the Vols into the headed rivalry game Oct. 24, he’ll wrap up his sophomore season Saturday when his Chattanooga Mocs enter Bryant-Denny Stadium in a game lacking the hype of an Alabama/Tennessee game.
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As a transfer following UT spring practice, Coleman stepped in as the centerpiece of the Football Championship Subdivision’s restructuring. Since then, and with the help of first-year coach Russ Huesman, the Mocs have turned a 1-11 team from last fall into a 6-4 winner heading into the 11:21 a.m. CST Saturday task that is the No. 2 Crimson Tide.
The starter in all 10 games, Coleman completed 220-of-376 passes (58.5 percent) for 2,312 yards and 17 touchdowns. At 6-5, 210 pounds, he’s a tall, strong-armed quarterback with an accurate arm that went 186 attempts between interceptions this season.
Playing for the Mocs meant coming home for Coleman, a Chattanooga native who set out for Knoxville as one of the top quarterback prospects coming out of high school in 2007 class. It was recruiting process that involved Alabama.
“Later in my career in high school, when I started getting recruited by coach (Mike) Shula at Alabama, I was very, very interested,” Coleman said, who’ll have you years of eligibility remaining after the season. “Just the history of the program, the Bear Bryant Museum and all the history with Joe Namath, Barry Krauss and the goal line stand and all that different stuff. I was very, very intrigued by it.”
The lure of Rocky Top, though, was stronger than any recruiting pitch Alabama could make. Former Vol offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, now the head coach at Duke, was the determining factor in original decision to attend Tennessee that Coleman said he doesn’t regret.
His UT career involved redshirting his freshman season before seeing limited action last season. He played in three games and completed 4-of-8 passes all 20-10 win over Vanderbilt and rushed seven times for 24 yards.
Everything changed when Phil Fulmer left and Kiffin came into the program. After Jonathon Crompton won the starting job in spring practice, Coleman decided to look for a new football home.
“It’s the best move for me,” Coleman told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in April. “What changed my mind is, after this spring, I don’t see myself getting a fair shake. Based on conversations with coaches and things that happened this spring, I feel the staff has goals that do not include me.”
Now adjusted to the change of pace that sees crowds of 10,000 fans instead of the 100,000-plus who pack Neyland Stadium, Coleman has flourished. He’s coming off 39-for-61 performance last week that included 356 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 31-28 win over The Citadel. Coleman directed the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in school history after the Mocs trailed by 15 points with 13 minutes remaining.
Now, as he prepares to make the trip to Tuscaloosa, Coleman remembers Bryant-Denny Stadium as a “gorgeous place” from the last time he came to town as a Vol freshman.
“That was really good for me to go down there and see how they act, see how hostile of an environment it is,” Coleman said. “It is very, very upbeat, very electric. They come to play every Saturday and the fans come to play every Saturday. That’s what makes it fun, that’s what makes in an SEC football powerhouse.”