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Auburn’s Antonio Coleman (52)returns a Kansas State fumble for a 34-yard touchdown. Quentin Groves, right, caused the fumble that Coleman picked up.
AP photo by Todd Van Emst
Auburn’s Antonio Coleman (52)returns a Kansas State fumble for a 34-yard touchdown. Quentin Groves, right, caused the fumble that Coleman picked up.

Auburn’s touchdown man
Coleman’s score shows how he adds depth to AU’s defensive line

By Ross Dellenger · 340-2462

AUBURN — What Antonio Coleman remembers seeing were the white bean bags that hit Pat Dye Field.

Instantly, he knew the ball was loose. The Auburn defensive end stopped bull-rushing Kansas State’s offensive tackle and searched for the football.

He found it, and then 34 yards later he found something else — the end zone.

“It was scoop and score,” Coleman said Monday, recounting his fumble recovery for a touchdown. “We work on that every day after practice.”

With less than two minutes left in Auburn’s game against K-State on Saturday, defensive end Quentin Groves — rushing opposite Coleman — blind-sided Wildcats quarterback Josh Freeman, jarring the ball loose. Coleman picked it up and raced the other way, sealing Auburn’s 23-13 season-opening victory.

Coleman said he never saw Groves’ hit. Instead, he was too busy knocking Kansas State’s lineman into the backfield. But then he noticed the referees’ white bean bags, which are thrown to mark the spot of a fumble.

“I was rushing. I was bulling,” he said. “I saw the white bean bags come out. I turned, saw the ball and scored.

Coleman is one of about nine defensive linemen whom Auburn used Saturday. In some defensive alignments, Coleman starts, but in others he is on the second string. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has developed the nine-player rotation to keep players fresh.

Muschamp said four players rotated Saturday night at the defensive tackle positions, including starters Josh Thompson, Pat Sims, Jake Ricks and Mike Blanc. At defensive end, Muschamp used a five-man rotation to spell tired players. Groves and Sen’Derrick Marks started at end, while Coleman, Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans rotated.

The defensive line was considered the strongest position on the team coming into the season. The line proved it Saturday night, allowing 1.7 yards per rushing attempt to Kansas State, which learned early it couldn’t run on Auburn. The Wildcats attempted only 16 runs.

Muschamp said it’s an advantage to “go to your second and third guys and feel good about putting them in the game and feel like they can make plays.”

Named by Auburn’s coaches as one of two defensive players of Saturday’s game, Coleman moved this season to weak-side defensive end.

In 2006, he backed up Groves at the strong-side end position, playing in 13 games and tallying 18 tackles.

But he wasn’t happy there, saying, “It wasn’t working out.”

He had to gain weight to play on the strong side. He reached 265 pounds, and it slowed him down.

During this offseason Coleman told coaches that he was “hurting the team” because he “couldn’t move right” with all the extra weight.

After spring practice, the coaches sided with Coleman, switching him to the weak side to back up Marks.

But he had to lose weight to do so.

“After the spring the coaches told me to get down to 245,” Coleman said. “I took a week off. I left at 260. I came back at 238.”

During that week the Mobile native woke up at 5 a.m., ran and worked out at the YMCA. He then went home, ate, woke up at noon and did it all again.

“Then I’d hit the Y(MCA) again before it closed,” he said. “I love working out. There’s nothing better.”

Coleman was rewarded for his off-the-field work with that touchdown. It brought much-needed excitement and exposure to his former quiet Auburn career.

“After the game,” he said, “I had like 15 missed calls and 30 text messages from my home boys in Mobile.

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