The Steelers’ third round pick out of Auburn, wide receiver Sammie Coates, may not have ended up there and in the Steel City if not for his best friend, Andrew Williams. In the summer of 2010, Auburn was holding their final camp for recruits, and Williams, a running back at Leroy High School where he played with Coates, wanted to impress. However, in the wee hours that morning, Coates was still sound asleep so Williams had to take drastic measures to awaken him. He climbed in through Coates’ window to get him up, out of bed and get the Alabama stickers off their car window before making the drive. It’s a move Coates is still thanking him for even to this day.
Coates, who already had given a verbal to Southern Miss, drew the assignment of facing off against Loucheiz Purifoy, a 4-star recruit who committed to Florida and formerly played for the Colts. After repeatedly making Purifoy look silly, Coates shook Auburn head coach Gene Chizik’s hand and the rest is history. Williams didn’t get offered a scholarship, but Coates knows his path was laid out by Williams, and for that he’s so thankful.
“We built a friendship that will never be broken,” Coates said, according to Andy Staple of Sports Illustrated.
Growing up, Coates overcame a lot of hardships, the first of which occurred each and every day, when he struggled to even eat. Growing up in poverty, he often found himself eating the leftovers of girls who he noticed would rarely finish all the food on their trays at lunch. Or his friend Williams, who worked at a restaurant would get him free food. Also, tragedy struck when he was only in the fifth grade. His father, Sammie Coates Sr., was en route to work at one of his two jobs when he was killed in a car crash. For this, he wants to commit a lot of his time away from Heinz Field to working with kids in similar situations in one parent households and he wants to show there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Once viewed as a first round pick, Coates slid all the way to the third round as draft analysts, as they seem to do, over-analyzed him. Steelers fans wondering what Coates may be capable of can go back to November, when he caught five balls for 206 yards and two scores on an Alabama defense littered with 5-star recruits. The man tossing him those passes was Nick Marshall, who many draft pundits have said is more ideally suited playing cornerback than quarterback at the NFL level. Ben Roethlisberger is a far cry from Marshall.
With All-Pro Antonio Brown, promising second-year Martavis Bryant, and slot receiver Markus Wheaton in front of him, the pickings could be slim for Coates as there are many mouths to feed in Pittsburgh’s explosive offense, and we haven’t even covered Heath Miller or Le’Veon Bell, who hauled in 83 passes last year himself. But when Coates gets on the field, his 4.43 speed and 41-inch vertical will likely get the attention of Roethlisberger, and possibly even eventually bump him up the depth chart past Wheaton.
After overcoming such events as he has earlier in his life, the arrow can only go one way from here and that’s up.
“It’s a new day, I’ve got air to breathe,” Coates said, according to Staple. “I know there’s something out there I can do to be a better person.”
After such failed experiments like LeGarrette Blount or Chris Rainey, the team has seemingly shifted it’s focus back to players without off the field baggage, and ones who possess that good-guy image. That’s something Coates seems to fit to a T.