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James Monroe freshman Antonio Wynn-Coleman throws down Kettle Run quarterback Carlos Vegerano for a loss.
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
All last offseason after the James Monroe football team lost in the Group AA, Division 3 state championship game, coach Rich Serbay was inundated with talk about an incoming freshman.
"Everybody kept saying 'Wait until you get this kid from Walker-Grant [Middle School]. He's a player,'" Serbay recalled. "Since Walker-Grant didn't win a game, I was thinking 'Well how good is this kid?'"
Serbay received his answer on the first day of JM practice.
He saw Antonio Wynn-Coleman, who is known as "Big Baby," running sprints and was taken aback.
He realized all the hype Wynn-Coleman received was well-deserved.
"I said 'My God, I didn't think he was that big,'" Serbay said. "All of a sudden, I saw him walking around and I started going 'Oh my God, this kid can play. He's big. He's huge. He's quick.'"
Serbay said he put "no thought whatsoever" into placing Wynn-Coleman on junior varsity.
Wynn-Coleman (5-foot-11, 215 pounds) has started all 13 games at nose guard for the Yellow Jackets (12-1) as they prepare for a state championship game rematch with Brookville (13-0) on Saturday at noon at Liberty University.
Wynn-Coleman has 79 tackles (13 for loss) and five sacks this season and was a second-team all-Battlefield District selection.
"Somewhere along the line, somebody taught him some awesome football, because he came to us polished," Serbay said. "The only thing we're going to do is polish him a little bit more and work every day on getting him better."
Wynn-Coleman said the polish comes from his days playing with the Manassas Mutiny American Youth Football League team.
The Mutiny played for national championships and were rarely scored on. Wynn-Coleman was selected for the AYF eighth-grade All-American game last year at Tropicana Field in Tampa, Fla., and scored on a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"The travel teams helped me a lot," Wynn-Coleman said. "I just learned a lot from the competition and it helped polish my moves."
Serbay said Wynn-Coleman is effective because he's tenacious, has a strong work ethic and takes criticism well. He said Wynn-Coleman's development has helped the Yellow Jackets linebackers become tackling machines.
James Monroe senior linebacker Tony Scott said when Wynn-Coleman is playing well, he forces double-teams. That frees up Scott and Eric Nelson to wreak havoc.
Scott said he was initially skeptical that Wynn-Coleman could be effective this season, but quickly learned otherwise.
"I've never seen a freshman that big and that talented before," Scott said. "When I was a freshman, I was good, but I wasn't that big. He's unique."
The plan before the season was to place Wynn-Coleman next to 2011 All-Area performer Ryheem Perrin. But Perrin isn't on the team this year because of off-the-field issues, and Wynn-Coleman decided to wear No. 34 in his friend's honor.
"He just tells me what I need to do to help the team win," Wynn-Coleman said of his relationship with Perrin.
Serbay said Wynn-Coleman has figured out a large part of that.
Still, he said Wynn-Coleman needs to learn how to use his strength to his advantage at all times, and not to overrun plays.
He said Wynn-Coleman is often so quick to the opposing backfield that he gets caught out of position.
"I'll come off the ball too fast, and it's kind of hard to stop when you come off the ball that fast," Wynn-Coleman said. "So I'm trying to help myself break down and make the tackle in the backfield."
Next season, Wynn-Coleman's speed will be even more of a factor for the Yellow Jackets. Serbay plans to play him at running back in addition to nose guard.
And with his size and speed, he's hoping Wynn-Coleman can help the Yellow Jackets reach this point again in 2013.
"He has the whole world in front of him," Serbay said. "He's got everything he needs to be successful. He's just got to follow through on it."
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526
James Monroe (12-1)