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Busting the Bust

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Lavon Coleman was on the verge of becoming another UW football bust story. Then last Saturday happened.

Washington v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Bust.

| buhst |

— noun

a failure.

That's the Oxford dictionary definition of the word. Not very obtuse, is it.

Ask a Husky fan to cite one “bust” in the history of the program and you are likely to hear about many.

Kavario Middleton

Nick Montana

Cody Habben

Chris Izbicki

Donny Mateaki

...the list goes on.

Before the season, some Husky fans may have included current Husky RB Lavon Coleman on that list.

That is understandable.

Portland State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Coleman came to UW in Steve Sarkisian’s vaunted 2013 signing class - a cohort that included players such as Troy Williams, John Ross, Joe Mathis, Elijah Qualls, Demore’ea Stringfellow, and Keishawn Bierria. He was a consensus four star recruit and the 30th ranked RB in the nation. The 5’11” 220 lb beast was described by Sark as a “bowling ball covered in meat cleavers” (or something to that effect) during his first training camp. Husky fans were intrigued in part because he was the only RB signed in the class and because he hailed from the same high school as UW legend Napoleon Kaufman. It was meant to be.

At least, it was until it wasn’t.

A cursory glance at our posts and message boards from the spring reveal very little talk about Coleman. It was almost as if Husky fans had seen enough and had become resigned to the fact that his succumbing to upstarts like sophomore Jomon Dotson, true freshman Sean McGrew and true freshman Kamari Pleasant was inevitable. Murmurs of words indiscernible from the term ‘bust’ were beginning to percolate, even if Husky fans tended to not worry too much about it. After all, we still had the record-breaking Myles Gaskin to lean on.

While his fate may have been sealed in the minds of some Dawg fans, somebody forgot to tell Mr. Coleman. Rumors that something new was happening with Coleman had started circling just before fall camp. The evidence started to mount as observers began to report on what looked like a new player. Our own Jeffrey Gorman reported as much in mid-August:

Coleman, I think, will stay as the primary backup. Word is he's really improved his explosion and wiggle as a runner. Adding a bit of speed to his already powerful running style should create a 1-2 punch with Gaskin that will be the primary choice.

As it turns out, Coleman is a highly coachable kid. Asked to be the “thunder” big back for Sark, Chris Petersen and RB coach Keith Bonapha wanted to see something else upon their arrival. They wanted all of their backs to be fundamentally sound, disciplined in the scheme and fast to the hole once the blocking is set. Coleman has apparently embraced those changes in philosophy and dedicated himself to leaning out his body and to improving both his vision and speed.

The results didn't come immediately. After registering 138 carries and 565 yards in his redshirt freshman season, Coleman saw his workload decline precipitously as he struggled with his development and others passed him by on the depth chart. Last season, Coleman registered just 33 carries for 176 yards. Many expected that a transfer was imminent. The “bust” label seemed to be settling in.

Last Saturday night, during #Pac12AfterDark, Coleman put all of those concerns to bed. On a night that was descending into disaster for UW, Coleman was the proverbial knight in shining armor. As offensive stars like Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin and Darrell Daniels struggled to make impact plays, Coleman saw the opportunity to help his team and to make a difference.

What a difference he made.

It started in the second quarter during UW’s third possession of the game. Coleman got two touches - a four yard bull rush and a 38 yard scamper that hinted at what was to come.

In the second half, the magic really kicked in. Coleman rotated in often for a struggling Gaskin to great results. Runs of 44 and 55 yards, including a fourth quarter TD, changed the complexion of the game. His 24 yard rush to begin overtime setup the game clinching TD.

NCAA Football: Washington at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

When it was all said and done, Coleman netted 183 yards and 1TD - single game totals that surpassed his entire body of production the season before. He was responsible for 35% of UW’s total offense, on just 11 handoffs. His contributions changed the entire complexion of the game. He was the “next man up” and he seized the opportunity by carrying his team to a win on a night when every trend arrow was pointing towards defeat.

The most poignant moment of the night came after the game. Coleman was, understandably, a man in demand. The radio mics and media spotlights were seeking out the player who had saved the day for a Husky team still harboring playoff dreams. He might not ever have another platform like this one. He could have easily sent a message to fans and pro scouts highlighting all of his talents and work ethic attributes that drove his success on the night.

That is not what happened. Instead, Coleman channeled the humility of his coach, his family and his upbringing.

"I felt like turning around and hugging my team," said Coleman. "That's what it's all about, thanking those guys for allowing me to have the opportunity to score."

At the end of it all, Coleman was all about crediting the teammates that started the plays he was able to finish and implying that he was simply doing his job.

If by “doing his job”, Coleman meant “saving UW’s ass”, indeed he did.

The glow of last weekend won't soon diminish for Coleman. It will likely be recorded as his greatest college day. Nonetheless, Coleman will return to being Gaskin’s backup when UW hosts #7 Stanford on Friday. He will do so, though, knowing that his role is now clearly defined and that his team’s expectations for him have risen.

He will also walk on to the field knowing that he has shed any labels that may have been affixed to his name. Bust no more.