Then, when the Hokies needed him, the 5-foot-7, 190-pounder became their best option.
This year Virginia Tech will turn to Coleman from the start, and not wait until the end of the year to turn him lose. Coleman, who has also competed as a sprinter for the Hokies during the indoor track and field season, is listed atop the Hokies depth chart heading into Monday night's season opener against No. 1 Ohio State.
Coleman ran 26 times for 92 yards in Virginia Tech's first nine games last season, and then when injuries to three players that had passed him on the depth chart forced the Hokies' hand, he became their most productive back.
In his final four games, he carried 81 times for 468 yards. The Hokies won three of those games, included two in the regular season to extend their bowl streak to 22 seasons, and then beat Cincinnati 33-17 in the Military Bowl. In a most valuable player performance, Coleman set a Hokies bowl game record, running for 157 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 25 carries.
The effort was validation for Coleman, and of course tremendously satisfying.
''It was an extremely good feeling to go from nothing to something,'' he said. ''It's kind of how I look at it, and it was definitely a great feeling. I don't look at it as an `I told you so' type of mentality, but I just wanted to go out there and prove that I could be the guy that they recruited, and that's the chip I play with on my shoulder.''
Hokies coach Frank Beamer's son, running backs coach Shane Beamer, said the feel-good story got better as the summer wore on as found himself watching televised versions of the games late at night. During that time, he was reminded again and again that Coleman was the difference-maker down the stretch.
''I'm the idiot that didn't start him twice and then demoted him,'' the younger Beamer quipped.
''It's amazing how many of those games J.C. didn't play at all, or played just a few plays. But he's the first guy on the sideline to congratulate one of his teammates. He just kept working and then his time came back around.''
During the summer, Coleman set weight lifting records for a Virginia Tech tailback. He believes the team has developed a level of closeness that should serve them well against the Buckeyes.
''I feel like the whole team comradery is great right now,'' Coleman said, ''and that's huge going into the season because when things break down, everybody's got to come together. I feel like it hasn't been like that since I've been here.''
Coleman expects to have the same mindset whether he winds up getting the bulk of the carries, or watching others. His team-minded approach, and patience, are traits the coaches have held up to others as examples of perseverance paying off.
''That's what I pride myself on, persevering, toughness, holding my head high through any type of trial and tribulations,'' he said. ''It definitely defines my character, defines the type of person that I am, and I'm glad I was able to prove that last year.''
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