Coleman Shelton is the Huskies' most versatile lineman and probably the best center in the Pac-12.
When it comes to offensive linemen, and centers in particular, Scott Huff is admittedly a little biased. More than a little, actually. He is, after all, Washington’s offensive line coach and himself a former all-conference center at Boise State.
So when Huff mentions that center Coleman Shelton ought to be considered as the Huskies’ most valuable player — on the entire team — at the midpoint of the season, well, one must consider the source. But Huff does make a case, a compelling case, on Shelton’s behalf.
“Just everything he brings from a leadership standpoint, to his mentality, his level of play — all of it,” Huff said. “He’s the kind of guy that everybody wants to be and wants to have. We’re lucky to have him.”
The feeling is mutual.
Shelton, a 6-foot-4, 299-pound senior, wasn’t a highly regarded recruit coming out of Loyola High School in Los Angeles. The Huskies offered him late in the 2012-13 recruiting cycle, and there was even talk of him grayshirting his first year at UW (that is, delaying enrollment for a year so he could have extra time to develop).
The lack of interest, he said, “was something that was hard for me as a (high school) senior, but I can’t complain at all now. I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I landed in the perfect spot.”
Shelton did not grayshirt, and four and a half years later he has developed into probably the best center in the Pac-12. He’s also as versatile as any linemen UW’s ever had, having started at every position on the line.
“I came in with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “And I always played like that, because that’s so important to me.”
His value to the team, Huff argues, is as great as anyone’s.
“There’s a thousand things going on that you probably can’t notice on tape,” Huff said. He pointed to Shelton’s extra time watching film; his ability to break down defenses; to read blitzes; and to communicate on the fly with the rest of the offensive line.
“I could go on and on,” Huff said. “He’s a special, special guy. I love the guy, as a person and as a player too.”
Huff arrived as UW’s new line coach in early spring and bonded quickly with his new center. Huff recalled a moment in the Colorado game a couple weeks ago in which Shelton was blocking about 20 yards down field, barreling into several different defenders along the way and helping Myles Gaskin pick up a big first down.
As Shelton rose to his feet, he made eye contact with Huff on the sideline — the two men screaming at each other in celebration.
“I’m on the sideline there at like the 25-yard line and I’m like, ‘Yeaaah!’” Huff said. “And he looks over at me all fired up, like he’s someone in ‘Braveheart’ or something. He just crushed five dudes and he was like, “Yeaaah!’
“It was pretty sweet.”
Said Shelton: “He takes a certain pride in center. So that’s fun to know he’s always got my back.”
UW coach Chris Petersen, who was Boise’s offensive coordinator in 2001-02 when Huff was the Broncos’ starting center, calls the two “extremely similar” as players.
“Coleman has much more of a chip on his shoulder, and he is ready to play every day of the week,” Petersen said. “Scott Huff was always like seeing the look on my face and he’d say, ‘We’re good, we’ve got this.’”
So much happens through the center (and between his legs) that Huff said an offensive line coach naturally has to lean on that guy.
“It just turns out that this guy is, like, awesome. I feel unbelievably confident in him,” Huff said. “If I know he and I are on the same page, then I know he’s going to get all the other guys on the same page, and that’s a really awesome feeling as a coach.”
Petersen called Shelton one of UW’s “unsung heroes,” and sophomore guard Nick Harris said Shelton is one of the most respected leaders in the locker room.
“I think everybody down to the safeties and the corners knows that,” Harris said.