Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Keon Coleman: MSU Spartan, FSU Seminole, Buffalo Bill

April 26, 2024
Junior wide receiver Keon Coleman (0) hands his gloves to a young fan during the MSU football spring open practice, held at Spartan Stadium on April 15, 2023.
Junior wide receiver Keon Coleman (0) hands his gloves to a young fan during the MSU football spring open practice, held at Spartan Stadium on April 15, 2023.

While the Mel Tucker era at Michigan State will forever live in infamy, it featured one of the best athletes the school has seen

Former MSU standout wide receiver Keon Coleman – who transferred to Florida State in April 2023 – completed his journey to the NFL Friday night, taken off the board by the Buffalo Bills at No. 33 overall, the first pick in the second round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

After trading All-Pro wide receiver Stefon Diggs to Houston, the Bills were without a big receiving target on the outside entering the week. Coleman fits that role perfectly and will head to upstate New York to catch passes from one of the NFL's best arms in quarterback Josh Allen.

The Louisiana native was part of MSU’s 2021 recruiting class as a two-sport athlete. He racked up 848 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over two seasons with MSU football and he also spent a portion of the 2021-2022 season with the Michigan State basketball team after the football season ended, being the only Spartan to score against Michigan in both football and basketball.

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“What I remember from Keon was the flash,” Bud Whitley, an MSU alumnus in Detroit for the draft, said. “(He was) one of the best athletes I’ve seen in some time, even if his time for us was short.”

MSU finished 11-2 and won the Peach Bowl in Coleman’s freshman season, but he didn’t see the field much playing behind future NFL receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor and veteran Tre Mosely. The 6-foot-4 prospect stepped into the spotlight the following season, posting nearly 800 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in an underperforming offensive system. The Spartans finished 5-7. 

Shortly after MSU’s spring game ahead of his junior season, Coleman entered the transfer portal alongside starting quarterback Payton Thorne. It was a massive loss for Tucker and the program, as Coleman was starting to gain traction as an NFL talent. He later committed to Florida State, joining forces with quarterback Heisman candidate Jordan Travis. 

Many Michigan State fans felt slighted by his departure, aided by comments he made on a podcast referring to his time in East Lansing as a “two-year sentence” and a “grand scheme” to improve at MSU before returning to the south. On college football opening night this past fall, though, Coleman showed why he left East Lansing without saying a word. He caught nine passes for 122 yards and scored three touchdowns in FSU’s 21-point drubbing of No. 5 LSU. 

“People were disappointed, but nobody could really blame him,” Shelly Crait, a 2004 MSU alumna, said in Detroit ahead of the draft. “He made the right decision for his career.”

Coleman dealt with injuries in late October and November and he wasn’t the same player he’d been in September. Then, on Nov. 18, the Heisman-contending Travis went down with a season-ending knee injury. The Seminoles finished the regular season undefeated and won the ACC Championship, but Travis’ absence caused the selection committee to leave them out of the four-team College Football Playoff. 

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Coleman then declared for the 2024 NFL Draft in January. MSU alumnus Tom Ruffalo said, at the 2024 NFL Draft in Detroit, he knew the receiver was league-bound from an early stage.

“I remember, he scored against Ohio State as a freshman,” Ruffalo said. “And, he tore up Michigan the next year. He was just different. Based on watching players come and go for this long, I just kind of have an eye for who can reach that next level.”

Before the injuries, Coleman was thought of by many as a first-round pick in Detroit. However, with the amount of pass-catching talent in this year’s draft pool, scouts deemed him a day-two player. That ended up being the case.

Coleman returned to East Lansing this winter to attend MSU basketball’s senior night, donning a Steven Izzo No. 13 jersey courtside in the Spartans’ win over Northwestern. He was seen taking pictures with fans and signing autographs. After the game, Coleman joined his former teammates in their postgame ceremony

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After the game, he told WILX-TV that MSU is “home.” 

“This is nothing personal,” Coleman said. “I will always love Michigan State.”

Coleman’s words were a testament to Michigan State's culture. Despite his early departure, he still showed appreciation toward the school. He certainly gave Spartan fans a number of memorable moments during his time in East Lansing.

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“I wish him luck wherever he goes,” Crait said. “Sparty’s got his back.”

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