New Steeler Andre Coleman helped the Hickory Hornets to the PIAA state AA championship in 1989 and was voted the AP Small School Player of the Year.
By Jeff Greenburg Herald Assistant Sports Editor
PITTSBURGH _ Andre Coleman has always been considered cat-like because of his blazing speed.
Well, Coleman also has exhibited another trait most often associated with the feline family _ he always lands on his feet.
That trait was never more evident Tuesday when Coleman, a fourth-year pro who graduated in 1990 from Hickory High School, signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The deal was for one year with an option for a second year.
Only two weeks ago, Coleman was released by Seattle six weeks after the Seahawks had signed him. He had been released by San Diego in late August after spending three seasons with the Chargers.
Coleman is believed to be the first Mercer County athlete to play for the Steelers.
``It's really a good feeling; I really can't describe it,'' Coleman said Tuesday during a press conference at Three Rivers Stadium. ``I've wanted to get back east and eventually wanted to play close to this area. It's like a dream come true to be able to be right here with the Steelers. It's an excellent organization, a winning organization with a winning tradition and I just want to be a part of it.''
With injuries Sunday to three of the Steelers' top five receivers and their top kick returner _ Charles Johnson (knee, out 4-6 weeks), Will Blackwell (ankle, out 4-6 weeks) and Michael Adams (torn ACL, out for the season) _ it's apparent Coach Bill Cowher feels fortunate to have someone of Coleman's ability in the fold.
``I've had a tremendous respect for Andre Coleman,'' Cowher said Tuesday during his weekly press conference at the stadium. ``I think he's a good football player. Obviously what he's done as a returner is documented, but I think this guy can also be a pretty good receiver because one substitute you can't have is for speed and this guy can flat fly.''
To, most recently, the tune of a 4.38-second 40, which Coleman said he recorded in a tryout with the New York Jets a week ago. His best is a 4.27. It is that speed, coupled with his experience and the Steelers' injury situation, that's going to find him thrown right into the fray this Sunday at Cincinnati.
That's going to force Coleman to learn a lot of information, namely the Steelers' offense, in a short period of time and that could present some problems.
``He needs to. He can. He must. He has no choice,'' a smiling Cowher said of Coleman learning the offense, bringing a laugh from the media members in attendance.
``That's why we're professionals,'' Coleman said. ``It's part of your job. You've got to learn it, I was in here at 7:30 (Tuesday) morning starting to learn this offense. It's complicated, it's something that's complicated to learn in three days or four days, but it can be done and I'm going to do it. I'm looking forward to getting out there and contributing as a wide receiver.''
Which is going to happen as, Coleman, who will wear No. 19, is one of only four healthy receivers the Steelers will dress Sunday against the Bengals.
``He'll get a chance to play not only as a returner (punts and kickoffs), but obviously on third-down situations and maybe even some on first and second down,'' Cowher said.
Before deciding to sign with the Steelers, Coleman said he was entertaining offers from several teams, which reportedly included the Jets, Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals.
``It was a hard decision,'' Coleman said. ``But the opportunity is great for me here, the exposure is great for me here and the tradition is great for me here, so it makes for a good fit.''
``Given Will's situation, (Andre) comes in and fills an immediate need as a returner. And so I think it's an ideal situation for him and for us.''
On whether he'll be here for the long haul, Coleman, who certainly has had his eyes opened to the business side of football this season, said, ``I'm looking for it to be something long term. I'd love to be here and everybody here has welcomed me with open arms. I'm just ready to go out and make some plays and get these fans excited around here.''
And if that's anything like the excitement he's provided during his days with the Hickory Hornets, Kansas State Wildcats and even the San Diego Chargers, Steelers fans better hold onto their seats.