LINCOLN – Malachi Coleman leaned back in a patio chair on a warm spring afternoon and let out a deep breath. His phone is finally quiet.
The incoming Nebraska receiver almost forgot what that was like after years of navigating the recruiting process as a four-star prospect. Eleven months earlier – at this same downtown coffee shop – he held his own informal press conference following an official visit with the Huskers to help limit media calls and texts for interviews. He stopped counting his total scholarship offers at 44 when it began to feel redundant.
Coleman will be on campus before the end of the month, but the 6-foot-4, 197-pounder with national-level sprinting speed hasn’t slowed down. The graduating Lincoln East standout is in the midst of making 20,000 catches before fall camp. He’s learning the playbook after attending all 15 NU spring practices as an observer. He’s also the face of his own budding foundation aimed at serving kids in the local foster-care system.
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The teenager’s personal story has become well known, told this spring by CBS News and again on NBC’s “The Kelly Clarkson Show” that will air June 5. Malachi was 5 years old when his mother left him and his younger sister, Nevaeh, at a stranger’s house and never came back. The children were briefly homeless before that and later bounced around multiple foster homes before finding Craig and Miranda Coleman, who eventually adopted them in 2015 and began the healing process together after a short lifetime of trauma.
Malachi Coleman also made headlines last year as a prep star who redirected money from his name-image-likeness deals toward foster care. Now his foundation, “Fly Like Chi,” is in its second month as an official nonprofit organization. Early financial contributions will hopefully evolve into subscription-based support to help fund whatever activity foster kids want to pursue.
Dance, arts, technology, sports – all are potential places to belong. Coleman wished he found football sooner in life for that very reason.
“Honestly it would have completely changed the picture,” Coleman said. “If I had an outlet like that a lot earlier on, I wouldn’t have had the self image I had for so long. Football helped show me I was worth something – it was something I was good at and my team needed me for. It helped me change what I was thinking about myself.”
It led to a prep career in which Coleman drew attention around the country as a receiver and edge-rushing prospect. He pledged to Nebraska last October, decommitted Dec. 1 after coach Matt Rhule was hired and rejoined the program a few weeks later.
Recruiting stories? Coleman and his family have many. There was the whirlwind in late November when they attended the Nebraska-Iowa, Michigan-Ohio State and Michigan State-Penn State games in a 36-hour span. The multiple times when a school would invite him on an official visit, only to yank it last minute without an honest explanation when someone else committed at his position.
There were countless hour-long Zoom sessions with coaches – Coleman once put two on split screens simultaneously to save some time. One coach called to ask what Coleman knew about the coach himself and his school, telling the teen to do his research because he’d be checking in the next day to quiz him.
“I was not doing that,” Coleman said. “If you’re going to be that – cocky and all that – you’re never getting a call back. He tried to call me and I hung up multiple times.”
Coleman and his parents quickly learned to identify what was a sales pitch and which coaches were genuine in their messaging. Finalists Georgia and Colorado fell into the latter category and each received an official visit in December. Coleman figured he was getting 30-40 calls per day from suitors back then.
Colorado and coach Deion Sanders were the toughest to turn down. People have Sanders all wrong, Coleman said – Coach Prime is for show while Deion is a humble person who is honest with people. They still Facetime every month.
Still, Coleman’s trip to Boulder was “discombobulated.” Some coaches were meeting each other for the first time as they were meeting him. The wideout sat in on a session with offensive coordinator Sean Lewis showing film from his previous stop at Kent State while the receivers coach remarked about how interesting it was seeing it for the first time.
“I’m like, ‘I don’t know how this is supposed to work,’” Coleman said, “‘but I’m pretty sure this is not it.’”
Rhule was at Coleman’s house the day after he decommitted to begin building a relationship. One reason it came together so fast, Coleman said, is the team approach of the Nebraska coaches. At many schools there was a staffer or two he could trust. With the Huskers is was pretty much everyone. He has walked into Rhule’s office when Rhule was talking with Athletic Director Trev Alberts – the coach asked Alberts to wait and addressed what the player needed.
“You don’t find that everywhere,” Coleman said.
Signing was just the start. In hindsight, the receiver said, he regrets not enrolling early at Nebraska, especially after a hamstring injury cut short his track season. But he did the next best thing, taking in every Husker spring practice before his high school day started at 10:40 a.m.
There were mornings when position coach Garrett McGuire had to tell Coleman to step back while others went through drills – “I hate watching with a passion,” Coleman said. The incoming freshman considers veteran wideout and Virginia transfer Billy Kemp a mentor now along with quarterback Jeff Sims.
Coleman wants to be like them. He wants to be better than them too.
Another thing he wanted to learn this spring is the difference between a Scott Frost/Mickey Joseph practice and a Rhule/McGuire one. His takeaway: He needs to be a lot faster if he wants to play as a freshman. Not physically, but mentally.
“Every single route is detailed to your step, to the split, to the coverage – everything,” Coleman said. “Sometimes it changes mid route and you’ve got to adjust. If you aren’t thinking on the fly, if you aren’t mentally tough, you are not going to succeed.”
Some of that comes from McGuire, the 24-year-old assistant who Coleman calls an “absolute master” of every little thing. McGuire will grade each practice play on offense and give individual notes and personal film to his receivers.
The coach has tasked everyone in his room to have 10,000 catches by fall camp. Coleman plans to double that.
Long-term goals include an NFL career and returning to Lincoln to mentor younger players. More immediately he’ll move in with fellow receiver Jaidyn Doss on campus and get to work, perhaps even mixing in a little time on defense as a third-down pass-rushing specialist as he works to add 10 pounds of muscle to reach 210. He’ll run track next spring.
So here comes Malachi. Lots to do, including logging out of social media and focusing on where his feet are. To lock in on one school with no one else blowing up his mobile device.
“It’s perfect,” Coleman said. “What I’m looking forward to the most is disappearing until fall.”