KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — There’s video of a Tennessee athlete running the 40-yard dash faster than anyone ever has at the NFL combine.
Except he didn’t get drafted. He’s not even a football player anymore. He did it for fun and watched the video gain traction on social media.
This just might have signaled Christian Coleman‘s arrival as one of the top young American sprinters. At a time when the U.S. is seeking talented young sprinters as Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin enter their mid-30s, Coleman is an intriguing contender.
“I definitely look at the opportunity and hope I can take advantage of it,” Coleman said. “You’ve got older guys, they came in and really laid the groundwork for USA Track and Field. Those are some of the guys that I looked up to growing up running track.
“To be able to be looked at as one of the guys that can potentially come in and take their place as they move out of the sport, that’s a pretty cool opportunity.”
Coleman, who ran on the U.S. Olympic 4×100 team in a qualifying heat in Rio, won the NCAA indoor championships 60m (6.45) and 200m (20.11) titles in March. He is undefeated in individual events during the NCAA outdoor season heading into this week’s Southeastern Conference Championships at Columbia, S.C.
After his junior season concludes, Coleman will compete in the U.S. Championships next month in Sacramento, Calif. Coleman says he won’t decide until after the NCAA season whether to return to Tennessee for his senior year or turn pro.
Perhaps his best-known performance thus far didn’t even count.
Less than a week after the NCAA indoor championships, Tennessee filmed Coleman running the 40 in 4.12 seconds at the school’s indoor athletic facility. For comparison’s sake, the fastest 40 ever posted at the combine came this year from Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross, a first-round draft pick out of Washington, who ran it in 4.22 seconds.
Tennessee’s track program put the video of Coleman’s 4.12 40 on social media on May 1, two days after the conclusion of the NFL draft. The attention surrounding it has introduced Coleman to a much wider audience.
The video has been viewed more than 3.3 million times on Facebook over the last week. Coleman says he got “a couple thousand” more Twitter followers as the video went viral.
“When they were making the video, we figured it would get a lot of views because it was a pretty fast 40,” Coleman said. “I don’t know how I really feel about it. I got a lot of publicity for it. It was just a cool little deal.”
As impressive as Coleman looked in that video, he might be capable of much more.
Tennessee coach Beth Alford-Sullivan noted that the video was shot after Coleman had taken some time to rest his tired legs after the NCAA indoor championships.
“I think he can run even faster, but he’d taken (about) a week off at that point,” Alford-Sullivan said.
“I wasn’t really in my best sprint form,” Coleman said. “We kind of just went out there and did it. I feel I could probably run faster, but you know, it’s pretty good.”
Other athletes noticed. U.S. Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones tweeted: “This is great. Can football players please stop asking to race us trackies now? Matter settled.” Tennessee football coach Butch Jones retweeted the video and asked Coleman, “What’s your cleat size?”
Coleman is a former high school cornerback and receiver from Atlanta. He has two older brothers who played football at Harvard and Colgate, though Coleman realized he had a brighter future in track.
“I had a couple of (football) offers from really small schools – (Division) II, a couple of I-AA schools – but I had other opportunities, of course, to run at SEC schools for track. … It just seemed like the best situation for me.”
Coleman hasn’t looked back since.
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