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Coleman shows heart in recovery

Bucs guard makes a quick comeback after a stomach operation in the offseason.

By ROGER MILLS
Published September 7, 2004

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
In Sunday's opener against the Redskins, Cosey Coleman will start at right guard, which he says is his natural position.

TAMPA - When team doctor Joseph Diaco opened an incision in Cosey Coleman's stomach during an operation in late April, he was stunned at what he saw.

For a man that size, at the time he was 6 feet 4, 312 pounds, there was little body fat and more than expected muscle mass.

The discovery proved a blessing. It not only allowed for a smooth process of correcting the diverticulosis that was causing Coleman such utter pain, but it enabled him to make a meteoric recovery.

Just how fast? Coleman, who returned to practice at the start of training camp (July 31), rapidly proved himself to be one of the best guards on the Bucs offensive line and showed little effect of the major surgery.

Sunday against the Redskins, a little over four months after about one foot of his large intestine was removed, Coleman will start at right guard.

The accomplishment has left a lasting impression at One Buc Place.

"What was encouraging was that Dr. Diaco said he hadn't seen such little fat for someone like him," offensive line coach Bill Muir said. "His body was able to recover perhaps faster than most, which, having missed the offseason program, the lifting and conditioning, was no easy feat.

"It's one of those really exciting stories. It's rewarding to see someone dedicate himself to a goal and have the stick-to-it-ness to see it come to fruition. My hat's off to him, it was sheer will and determination. A great display of resolve."

The fifth-year player who was the Bucs' second-round pick in 2000 said he hasn't had time to reflect on what transpired or even to think too much about what could have been.

"In this business, if you don't get with the program, it's easy to get left behind," Coleman said. "I've been fortunate, since I've come back I haven't had any setbacks or any recurrences with my stomach. I feel fortunate because I really didn't know what to expect, what kind of setbacks it might have caused.

"My biggest challenge was getting in shape. I missed pretty much the entire offseason and all of the minicamp, and from a conditioning standpoint, I hadn't played much."

He will now. Coleman joins left tackle Derrick Deese, left guard Matt Stinchcomb, center John Wade and right tackle Todd Steussie to form the Bucs' first line of attack. But whatever the 2004 season has in store for Coleman, it likely pales in comparison to what he went through during the offseason.

After a disappointing 2003, the Bucs had made clear their intention to reshape the offensive line and began the process of adding free-agent talent. Coleman hit the free-agent market with the hope of a multiyear deal and a starting position.

There was a flirtation with the Dolphins and a few other visits, but no long-term offers. Coleman came back to the Bucs and signed a one-year deal, despite the arrival of Stinchcomb and Matt O'Dwyer who were slotted to play left and right guard, respectively.

"It's been a roller-coaster ride," Muir said. "Starting from the end of last season, he went out on the free-agent market and came back with us and I'm sure at that particular point in time he was disappointed at the way the market did not materialize for him."

But Coleman soon found he had a bigger concern. Days after the Easter holiday, Coleman was visiting family in Atlanta when excruciating pains in his abdomen became impossible to ignore. He ended up in an Atlanta emergency room, where he stayed for six days while doctors figured out the problem.

"The initial doctor told me surgery," said Coleman, who admits he waited until the pain was unbearable before going to the hospital. "Naturally, I wasn't pleased with that. The stomach pains were severe, but I just wanted something for the pain. They started talking about surgery and it set off the alarms. They put me on antibiotics and sent me home (back to Tampa)."

Meanwhile, Coleman developed an infection of the colon, which was leaking into his abdomen. When he arrived in Tampa and was examined by Diaco, surgery was scheduled immediately.

"Once I accepted it and was prepared to deal with it, I was okay," Coleman said. "The first three or four days were difficult. The first night, primarily, with tubes down my nose, feeling cold, with my abdomen cut open, coughing, sneezing, laughing, turning, sitting up, anything would irritate me. I was neutralized for a moment."

Apparently, just a moment. Although doctors removed about 12 inches of colon - Coleman laughingly points out that he has "many more feet left" - and the 25-year-old lost 25 to 30 pounds, he immediately began the process of fighting for his job.

His priority was regaining the strength, stamina and mass needed to grapple at the line of scrimmage. The Bucs gave him time off from the offseason workout to get his body right and he currently weighs 322 pounds, 10 pounds more than when the ordeal started.

"I look at everything as me against myself," Coleman said. "When I'm healthy, feeling as good as I have ever been, the chances of me going out there and doing what's in my favor are pretty good. I know what I can do as Cosey Coleman.

"I'm confident in my ability. I'm confident in what I can get done. As long as I'm healthy, then I'll be good."

The experience, however, has been instructional. Coleman said he developed the pouches in his colon because of a lack of fiber in his diet. He has become more conscious of what he eats, increasing his intake of greens, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

"You know, being a professional athlete, you kind of get that invincible feeling," Coleman said. "You work out, you lift weights, you're strong, your body is like a machine. But any machine can go wrong, stuff can break down. It was an experience that brought me down to earth to remind me that there are things bigger than football. I'm talking about my life, my health and if that's not in order, football means nothing.

"Around here, there are a lot of big guys and even some of the small guys as well who don't eat well. My eating habits weren't the worse. It's a twist of fate for it to happen to me. I don't have the best eating habits, but I didn't have the worst either."

There was one more hurdle. When Coleman returned the Bucs used him on the left side, then on the right, his natural position.

"He comes back in training camp, two or three weeks ahead of schedule, takes over at left guard when Stinchcomb goes down," coach Jon Gruden said. "When Stinchcomb gets back, he takes over at right guard. To be honest with you, he's played very well. Maybe the time off in April, May and June helped his knee. He had some knee ailments over the last couple of years, but he appears more mobile and more effective. I admire that guy."

[Last modified September 6, 2004, 23:29:20]

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