Two years ago, Jaylen Coleman - who you could make a real argument for being the fastest high school student in North Carolina - was a little-used receiver for Porter Ridge High School who flashed potential.
Coleman caught two passes for 6 yards back then, and Pirates coach Michael Hertz, thinking he had a future star, knew he had to find more ways to use him.
“We wanted to take advantage of his speed,” said Hertz, whose team is No. 13 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll and plays at No. 16 Weddington Friday. “But we couldn’t get him the ball enough. So he and I talked, and I said, ‘I’ll hand it to you, and make sure you get it all the time.’”
As a junior, Coleman quickly adjusted to his new position at running back, rushing 179 times for 1,287 yards. That was good for fourth in Union County.
In May, Coleman ran a time of 10.83 seconds to win the 100-meter dash at the N.C. 4A state championships. No N.C. runner returning to high school this year ran faster at the state finals in any class.
“We knew he was an explosive player before,” said Unionville Piedmont coach Luke Hyatt, “but then he goes out and wins the 100 meters in 4A track and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘This might be the fastest kid in North Carolina.’”
Sure enough, in his first two games as a senior, Coleman is showing all the promise Hertz thought he had as a sophomore.
In Porter Ridge’s 56-35 season-opening win against Waxhaw’s Cuthbertson High, Coleman ran 20 times for 349 yards and four touchdowns.
He only played one half of last week’s 48-6 over Piedmont High in Unionville, but after watching Coleman run eight times for 123 yards and a touchdown, Piedmont coach Hyatt had seen enough to know that Coleman, a Duke recruit, was headed toward a special senior season.
Coleman is averaging more than 17 yards per rush attempt this season.
“He’s got breakaway speed, but he’s also got vision,” Hyatt said. “He’s not just a guy who goes on the end and outruns everybody. He hits the dive out of the triple option (offense) they run and he can break a long run at any time.
“When he’s in the backfield, you gotta hold your breath sometimes.”
While he hasn’t played the position for long, Porter Ridge coach Hertz believes Coleman, who is 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, will get even better.
“Here’s what you have to know about Jaylen,” Hertz said. “As good an athlete as he is, and he’s obviously very talented, his character and leadership is there. He’s a 4.0 student and as mature a young man as I’ve come across in a long time.”
Hertz said Coleman has run a time of 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That speed, Hertz said, plus Coleman’s work ethic and character are going to carry the Pirate’ senior a long way.
“I can’t tell you how good a kid he is,” Hertz said. “And then you get on the field, and he’s got that extra gear that a lot of kids don’t have. If he gets to the second level, not too many people are going to run him down.
“He’s just really, really special.”