When pressed to recall a moment that stands out regarding Pasadena native Coleman Shelton, University of Washington offensive line coach Chris Strausser wasn’t able to come up with one.
“I don’t really have a story like that to share,” said Strausser, who is also the associate head coach. “[Shelton is] focused and competitive. That’s just how he is on a day-to-day basis. I’ve never had one day where I wished Coleman would have gone harder.”
Shelton doesn’t know how to play the sport any other way. It’s what he’s done since he began playing tackle football in 8th grade, and he’s carried that drive with him to Washington.
“I’m just practicing and planning day by day,” a humble Shelton said. “I’m just living out what I dreamed about as a kid.”
He and all of his teammates are currently riding a dream season in which the Huskies (12-1 overall record) clinched their first Pac-12 championship since 2000. As the No. 4 team in the nation, Washington will take on the University of Alabama in the Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The game, one of two semifinals in the College Football Playoff system, will be televised on ESPN on Saturday, Dec. 31, at 3 p.m.
“It feels good, to be honest,” said Shelton, who was an All-CIF lineman at Los Angeles Loyola High School. “It’s a great feeling to be able to work your way up here, keep grinding, keep your nose down and have a little payoff.
“But there’s more to go. I’m not thinking I’ve made it yet.”
Shelton isn’t one to settle, especially on the field. As a sophomore in 2013, he played in 13 games at right tackle. The Pasadena resident was used to the position, but asked to switch to left tackle by his coaches last year. Shelton didn’t hesitate to make the move and wound up being shuffled to two other spots in the offensive line.
“I think he’s really unique in the sense that he’s a total selfless player,” Straussman said. “I’ve had to move him around midweek because a guy got dinged up. I’m more impressed by the fact that he doesn’t even blink at it. I know anyone in our group would do the same, but having that mentality is great. He wouldn’t flinch. He’s just good with it.”
That attitude earned Shelton the 2014 UW’s John P. Angel Lineman of the Year award, as well as the respect of his fellow teammates.
“He is for sure the leader of the group,” Straussman said. “Our guys respect him as the leader. He takes charge and is not afraid to take charge. Part of being the leader is putting in that certain amount of time and working harder.”
The biggest move of Shelton’s collegiate career happened prior to this season when Straussman told him he was going to be the Huskies’ starting center.
And, again, the lineman didn’t flinch. Shelton accepted the challenge and helped Washington win 12 of 13 games, including victories over rival Washington State, No. 18 Stanford, No. 19 Utah and No. 10 Colorado.
“I really had no doubt it was going to work,” said Straussman. “I don’t say that much, but I just had so much faith in Coleman that he was going to get it done. He did exceed my expectations. The past few days, we’ve been reviewing ourselves on the season, and he’s played really good football all season long. He didn’t really have a bad game for us, and that’s rare at this level.”
“We just study every opponent to the best of our ability, but the biggest thing is how we execute,” Shelton said. “Our coaches prepare us well and we practice hard every day.”
Shelton is one of the most eager players on the team, soaking in as much knowledge as possible to gain an advantage over the opposition. Much of the Academic All-Pac-12 honorable mention’s ability to understand the sport comes from his father, Jim, who was a lineman at
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“My husband played college football, also on the offensive line, and he is passionate about the sport,” said Shelton’s mother, Sarah. “Coleman picked that up as a little boy. He has a temperament, body type and natural ability for football. He grew up around his father and always had a love for the sport. The two of them share a wonderful bond over it. It’s fun for me to watch.”
It also makes Straussman’s job a little easier. As a longtime coach, he has seen fathers experienced in football impede a player’s development, but in Shelton’s case, it made him an exceptional leader and athlete.
“For Coleman, it’s a true benefit,” Straussman said. “Jim gets it and has been very helpful. He keeps him focused and understands what his son is getting from college football.”
Shelton’s focus is solely on the team’s matchup against the No. 1 team in the nation. As of Dec. 20, SportsLine has predicted Alabama as the favorite by two touchdowns.
“We can’t really control how we’re portrayed,” Shelton said. “All we can control is how we play, how we win. We want to prove everyone wrong. Going into these playoffs, we still have a lot to prove.”
Luckily for Shelton, he’ll have plenty of moral support while in Atlanta.
“We’re from the East Coast, originally, and our family is thrilled,” Sarah said. “We have 32 people from Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee coming to Atlanta. It’s almost a family reunion to embrace him and the sport.”