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Best of the Decade: The case for Tevin Coleman

This week, the Hoosier Network is taking a look back at the best Indiana athletes of the decade. We surveyed current and former beat writers, along with others in the IU Athletics sphere, to see who they believe the best of the best are.

Tevin Coleman scores one of his many touchdowns, this time against Minnesota. (Courtesy photo/AJ Mast, Icon SMI)

The final rankings will be published Friday, and leading up to that we’ll have guest columns from voters where they make a case for certain athletes. Our series starts today, as former IU beat writer for the Bloomington Herald-Times Mike Miller writes about former IU running back Tevin Coleman.

***

I’ll always remember the silence.

It crept through Ohio Stadium as Tevin Coleman raced down the sideline, each step leaving the 101,426 diehards inside more hushed than the last. In the first 124 storied seasons of Ohio State football, the Buckeyes never allowed an opponent to run for more than 81 yards on a single play in Columbus. Then Coleman entered the arena on Nov. 22, 2014 and changed that.

The junior found a hole on the left side, sped through it untouched, and darted 90 yards to help lowly Indiana to a six-point lead over No. 7 Ohio State midway through the third quarter.

The Hoosiers would, of course, go on to lose that game in predictable Hoosier football fashion. You’ll remember that this was a season that had gone sideways long before that pre-Thanksgiving showdown. But that afternoon against the eventual national champions further established what we were coming to know then — and what we certainly know now: Tevin Coleman is one of the greatest IU athletes of the decade.

Coleman’s Indiana-record 2,036 yards on the season made him only the 18th player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season, a staggering achievement when you consider all he overcame.

Tevin Coleman is Indiana’s only running back to have over 2,000 yards in a single season. (Courtesy photo/AJ Mast, Icon SMI)

First, and most obviously, Indiana’s 2014 offense was a mess — and I dare not think what it would’ve looked like without him. It wasn’t always that way that fall, but quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s season-ending shoulder injury in the sixth game of the season torpedoed any hope IU had of even sniffing six wins.

Although third-string quarterback Zander Diamont was eager and enthusiastic about taking the reins, he was merely a freshman — a clearly underdeveloped one, at that. Without competent quarterback play during the back half of the Big Ten schedule, Indiana’s offensive upside cratered. And yet, even as defenses knew where to look, Coleman kept running.

He posted four 200-yard games, setting a career high with 307 yards at Rutgers that November. With 264 carries on the year, the Tinley Park, Illinois, native became the fourth-fastest rusher to reach 2,000 yards behind legends of the game Melvin Gordon (241), Larry Johnson (251) and Mike Rozier (258). He was also only the third Big Ten rusher to reach the milestone in the regular season, joining Gordon and Johnson. For Coleman, a consensus All-American, it all added up to a seventh place finish in the Heisman Trophy race.

At one point late in the year, with the offense in dismal shape, Indiana experimented with the Wildcat formation in a game at Michigan, recognizing that its only hope of accomplishing anything meaningful started and stopped with Coleman. The Hoosiers’ one-dimensional offense produced only 191 total yards that day, with 108 of them coming from Coleman.

Most remarkably, Coleman played the bulk of the season on a bad toe after breaking the sesamoid bone in his right foot on Oct. 4 — then aggravating the injury a month later. But Coleman kept the pain mostly to himself, staying mum in order to delay surgery until after the season. That allowed him to keep running to the top of Indiana’s leaderboards, authoring a season for the ages.

Coleman left school after the 2014 season, going to the Atlanta Falcons in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Though there were other IU athletes this decade with longer, more decorated college careers, few had single-season success to the level that Coleman enjoyed.

And fewer still knew the thrill of deflating a stadium of more than 100,000 opposing fans and leaving them mute. An unforgettable moment befitting one of Indiana’s most impressive athletes of the decade.

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