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Ben Smith

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University of Saint Francis wide receiver-return specialist Austin Coleman, who signed as a free agent with Seattle, trains at AWP.

Coleman hoping to wow Seahawks

His phone chirped at him about 9 p.m., not long after the last name had been called in Radio City Music Hall. The NFL draft was done. The dream, however …

Well, what’s the word for it when it becomes a next-door neighbor to reality?

What’s the word for it when Austin Coleman’s phone chirps and he answers and, oh, my God, it’s the Seattle Seahawks on the other end?

The Seattle Seahawks, wanting a 5-foot-8, 180-pound receiver/open-field magician from some tiny school in Fort Wayne. Wanting a man who grew up playing for a high school that no longer exists. Wanting … him.

“So what did they say they liked about you?” I ask Austin Coleman a couple of days after the Seahawks summoned him as an undrafted free agent.

“Just my return ability, and they like my breakaway speed, and basically my speed overall,” he replies. “They like my … versatility. That’s the word I’m looking for.”

And because the NFL net is wide and its reach all-encompassing, we should probably mention here that the dream for Coleman was not exactly formless. That he played for Saint Francis isn’t as significant to NFL scouts as the 4.4 40-yard dash he ran in his pro day at Ball State in March, or the field vision that resulted in an NAIA-record eight career touchdowns on kickoff returns and a 28.04-yard return average and 15.36-yard reception average last fall.

And, besides, it’s not like the NFL hadn’t gone fishing in the small-college pool before. Former Colts wideout Pierre Garcon hailed from Division III Mount Union. London Fletcher played his college ball at Division III John Carroll. And two former NFL quarterbacking stalwarts – Ken Anderson and Dave Krieg – both came out of the D-III.

And so, yes, come Saturday night, Coleman expected his phone to ring. In fact he wouldn’t have been shocked if his name had been called during the draft itself.

“Yeah, I was kind of figuring I’d go in the sixth or seventh (round), just from all the positive feedback I was getting after my pro day and the phone calls I was getting,” he says. “And I was kind of expecting to get a call right after the draft from either the 49ers, Lions, Seahawks, Jaguars or Steelers. I was in contact with them all weekend.”

And then his phone rang, and it was the Seahawks.

Who went 11-5 last season and lost by two to Atlanta in the divisional playoffs and have one of the emerging stars in the league in quarterback Russell Wilson. Who are one of the NFL’s up-and-coming teams, expected to push the Super Bowl runnerup 49ers in the NFC West the way they did a year ago, when they finished a half game behind.

“I know it’s a great organization and they’re a winning team. They get the job done,” Coleman says. “I hear the 12th-man crowd there is really wild, and it’s a nice city to live.”

And of course, there are no guarantees, particularly for free agents. The Seahawks already have Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice and Golden Tate at receiver. They’ve signed Utah State receiver Matt Austin, another undrafted free agent. And they drafted another receiver, Chris Harper of Kansas State.

And yet: This is the dream.

“Honestly, I would say my sophomore year, going into my junior year of college football is when I first started thinking about this,” says Coleman, who reports to rookie camp May 9. “Coming from a small school, I knew the chances were very slim. I just figured I was gonna play ball and do what I had to get my degree.”

And then his phone rang.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.