In 2017, they were champions, avenging their only loss of the season in a victory over Rancocas Valley in the South Jersey Group 5 title. In 2018, the Indians of Lenape High School lost three of their first four games and never really got going, finishing with a losing record.
Lenape is back in 2019. The Indians announced the return of their status as South Jersey football titans in their first game, against Tottenville (New York), when they scored 48 points, 18 of those on kick-off returns (the shortest return was 88 yards).
Junior Xavier Coleman ran back two of those kicks (he has three on the season). Entering Lenape’s last regular season game, against district rival Shawnee, Coleman has 16 touchdowns in eight games: seven rushing, six receiving, three on special teams.
“He’s so dynamic,” Lenape coach Joe Wojceichowski said. “He has that next gear, when we talk about next-level speed, he has it. There is Saturday speed and there’s Sunday speed, and he’s got Sunday speed. He’s explosive.
“And his ability to track the ball in the air is something that I think sets him apart from other people. When you watch how he tracks it with his hands and actually attacks the football with his hands, I think that’s really, really special. And then he has the ability to make you think you have an angle on him when you don’t.”
Coleman, a speedy recruit who took a visit to Penn State for the Michigan game, took time to speak with South Jersey Sports Weekly prior to last Friday’s win over Cherokee.
SJSW: Last year you guys were 3-4 heading into the Cherokee game. This year you’re 6-1 at the same point. What’s the biggest difference?
Xavier Coleman: Everyone wants it. We came in here with the idea that we can’t be a mediocre football team. Nobody likes losing games. And coming off a state championship my freshman year and then having a mediocre season, it was a big difference, but we also know the tools that we need to get to that point. So if we can do it, we can do it now. The group of guys that we have now, with a lot of seniors, we owe it to them. I’ve been playing with them since I was a freshman.
SJSW: Any significance to wearing No. 1?
Coleman: The only person that can stop me is me. So, the No. 1, one person can stop me. That’s me.
SJSW: I like your Twitter handle, too: @Xtooshiftyy. I guess that’s self-explanatory? [Laughs]
Coleman: Oh yeah, definitely. I feel like when I’m in the open field I’m always going to get a 1-on-1 and I’m going to come out on top.
SJSW: I feel like that’s happened a lot this year. Heading into Cherokee you have 379 yards rushing, 369 yards receiving, 14 TDs, three kick returns. Back to the rushing and receiving yards, I did the math and you’re averaging 17.8 yards per play.
Coleman: Yes sir.
SJSW: When I read that number to you, 17.8 yards per play, what do you think?
Coleman: I just think every time I get the ball I just want to make a big play for my team. That’s the biggest thing. Every time I get it in my hands, my coaches trust me to make a play and I just want to show them their trust is worthy.
SJSW: What’s your single favorite thing to do on the football field?
Coleman: Um, I mean, just being on the field is my favorite thing. But …
SJSW: Another way to ask it: what do you think you’re best at?
Coleman: With the ball in my hands. That’s when I feel I’m at my best. All the offseason training, catching balls, route running, I feel like whenever I get the ball in my hands I can put on a show.
SJSW: When did you begin playing?
Coleman: I was 6 years old.
SJSW: Do you have brothers?
Coleman: I have an older brother, Gabriel (played on the state championship team in 2017). I have three little brothers, too. (Naseem, 15; Zaire, 12; Darold, 10)
SJSW: So do you feel like you have to set a good example for them?
Coleman: Oh yea, definitely. Every time they come to watch me play on Fridays, I tell them to one-up on me. So if I score two touchdowns, I tell them you have to go score three tomorrow.
SJSW: Let’s talk about your teammates. Who is the toughest player on your team?
Coleman: Hmm. I feel like we have a lot. Damn, who’s the toughest. Hamza. Definitely Hamza (Bruce).
SJSW: Who is the funniest player on the team?
Coleman: Me. Definitely me.
Coleman: You can ask anyone on the team, definitely me. I definitely hold that.
SJSW: How about the smartest?
Coleman: Zach Marshall. I think he has a 4.4 GPA in all honors classes.
SJSW: Best tackler?
Coleman: Clyde Washington.
SJSW: Best hands?
SJSW: I was going to say, if you don’t answer yourself there … [Laughs]
— John Lewis (@JohnLewis19) October 26, 2019
SJSW: Who is your favorite team to play against?
Coleman: Definitely R.V. (Rancocas Valley).
SJSW: I’m guessing you know a lot of the guys over there then?
Coleman: Yes sir. I see them all the time. All the fans chirping. That’s what I really love. Their student section gets me pumped up when they’re screaming and hollering. It’s nice to hear them quiet when you do something good.
SJSW: If you could add anyone else in South Jersey to Lenape’s roster, who would you pick?
Coleman: [Sighs] Sheesh. Damn. Just one person? Fadil Diggs at Woodrow Wilson. He’s just an impact player. Every time he’s on the field he makes plays. Offensively and defensively. He makes things happen. That’s the same mentality I have and I’d love to play with someone with that same mentality.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite player to watch in pro or college?
Coleman: Well, while he was in college, Tavon Austin was one of my favorite players.
SJSW: Wait, West Virginia?
Coleman: Yes sir.
SJSW: I went to Clemson and I was at the Orange Bowl game when he clobbered us. They scored 70 points on Clemson. (Austin scored four touchdowns).
Coleman: He’s an impact player. And he wears the same number as me. Similar body type, similar type player who gets the ball in the backfield and as a receiver. And he returns kicks. Me 2.0. That’s who I’m trying to be.
SJSW: What motivates you?
Coleman: My mom (Daria Myles) and I came from a rough upbringing, getting me to this point. So that’s the main thing, getting us in a better situation and my little brothers of course. Everything wasn’t easy for us growing up. I moved a lot. I met a lot of people and learned a lot of things. But being able to put my family in a better situation is the biggest thing.
SJSW: Where were you born?
Coleman: I was born in Willingboro, but we probably moved 10 times. I think I’d only been in one school system for more than a year, maybe twice. It’s been really hard but at the same time I learned a lot and met a lot of people. So it’s nice to see familiar faces. I take it as a learning tool. Everything to this point has been a blessing, everything that happened happened for a reason. I feel like it all brought me to this point today.
SJSW: I guess your mom is your hero?
Coleman: Definitely. She’s worked multiple jobs my whole life. That hard-working work ethic, supporting all of us, that’s the reason I do what I do. When I’m on the field working, she’s working for us.
SJSW: What’s your favorite school subject?
Coleman: Math. It just comes easy to me.
SJSW: Favorite teacher?
Coleman: Coach (Chris) Easlick. He coaches our freshman team, but he’s also my physics teacher.
SJSW: Favorite movie?
Coleman: “The Lion King,” definitely.
SJSW: Favorite thing to do outside of football?
Coleman: Listen to music, chill with family and friends. That’s the biggest thing, when I’m away from the game I just want to be laid back. There’s so much time when I’m around the game, so when I get some time off, I just like to relax and be around love.
SJSW: If you guys advance to Met Life Stadium and everyone gets to walk onto the field to their own song when their name is announced, what are you walking out to?Coleman: “Dreams and Nightmares” by Meek Mill, of course. That’s definitely the pump-up song, maybe of all time.