NORMAN – Cornerback from Oklahoma CJ Coldon has emerged as an unlikely star in OU defense.
On this day in particular, he couldn’t be more grateful.
“Every time I step onto the field, you have to be grateful,” Coldon said after practice on Monday night, “because I’ve been injured twice in my career. So I’m just grateful. Every time I step onto the field, it’s a blessing. You never know when it’s your last piece.”
Coldon, a supersenior from Belleville, IL, started 19 games in Wyoming but struggled with multiple injuries. After changing redshirts in 2017, he played three games in 2018, three games in 2019 and six games in 2020. In 2021 he finally had a full season and stayed healthy – and played great, amassing 65 tackles in 12 starts.
He figured why not end his career by exploring the transfer portal? As the new coach of Oklahoma Brent Venables and cornerbacks coach Jay Wallai contacted him, he was ready to go.
“They were just super authentic,” Coldon said. “You mean well. They are die-hard trainers. They mean what they say. The program is in good hands.”
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Coldon knew he would make a significant step forward in the competition. He prepared himself – and then Venables prepared him even more with a reminder.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Coldon said. “He asked me on my visit when I committed, he asked me if I mind training hard? I didn’t know it was going to be that hard, but I said yes with a smile, everything just lit up. It was difficult just to learn, the experience. Just record everything.”
Coldon has played 10 games this season. Although a solid rotation guy early on, he didn’t make the starting lineup until the November 12 game in West Virginia Jaden Davis dropped out with an injury. Coldon has started in the last two weeks and has emerged as arguably the Sooners’ best corner.
He made a career high with 13 duels against WVU. He also landed what looked like an important end zone interception that was nullified by a penalty. Last week against Oklahoma State, Coldon got his team-leading third interception of the season.
Coldon had an odd choice against Texas as Longhorn’s quarterback Quinn Ewers threw a throwaway into what he thought was open space, and Coldon chased it down. His interception against OSU was similar, a communication error between Cowboys QB Spencer Sanders and his receiver, leaving Coldon all alone in space and doing a simple over-the-shoulder catch. It was similar when he was almost selected at WVU, where he caught the football all by himself.
Sanders’ INT last week was trickier than it looked, he said.
“It was me and the ball,” he said, “so just focus on that. It was a pretty easy catch and it looks like it, but these easy ones are the hardest.”
But his one-handed, jumping, dropping interception against Kansas was no fluke. It was the result of a lot of preparation, a lot of study, and a lot of patient learning.
“I just trust the game plan, trust my coaches,” Coldon explained. “In practice, just work hard, get the ball, look it all the way in. Just the little things. Catch the ball with your eyes first and finish the moves. It takes a lot of effort, but that’s a given.”
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Coldon said the transition from Mountain West Conference football in Laramie to Big 12 Conference football in Norman was slow at first. He only arrived on campus last June, so of course he was behind the curve.
How did he finally catch up?
“Learning patience, learning a new system,” he said. “People in the league (NFL) sometimes trade overnight. You just have to be in (after) the city. Just learning a new system, new terminology, defending, the way coaches work, having new teammates. Just adjustments all around. Strength coaches, new facilities, walking through a new city. Just things like that.”
One thing Venables applauded Coldon for early on was his Wyoming playing experience. But Venables said on Tuesday the more he learned about Coldon, the more he enjoyed the whole encounter of recruiting him via the portal – and certainly noted Coldon’s gratitude.
“I just had a lot of energy,” Venables said. “Very humble, articulate. He was very grateful for the opportunity he had where he was. Was a good player for her. He only had good things to say about the environment he found himself in every day. I liked that instead of saying, ‘I have to get out of here, this place stinks’ or whatever. That was important in our first conversation. Never asked for anything. He didn’t want me to tell him how fast he’s going to be a starter or anything. He was grateful that he had the opportunity to come.
“Everyone I spoke to complimented him in terms of work ethic, competitiveness, great teammates and things like that. These were some of our first conversations and first impressions. We liked what we saw on the tape. We knew we were skinny in high school. The biggest disappointment was…when we found out he couldn’t be here for the Spring Ball. That was disappointing. I would have taken him anyway. That put him behind some of the other guys.”
Coldon came to Norman with a solid technical foundation, which is everything for a cornerback. Still, he probably learns something new from Venables and Valai every day.
“Coach is pretty forgiving,” Coldon said, “but it’s good for me to learn new techniques. You don’t want to have the same old tricks. Just learn new techniques, learn what the trainer knows. Coach Valai just taught me the game in and out. Coach BV, he coached some GOATS, some league guys on the corner. (AJ) Terrell, (Trayvon) Mullen, just great guys. And coach Valai is also from ‘Bama, he knows a lot. So I learned a lot and brought a lot with me. But my effort is one thing that accompanies me wherever I go.
“It’s a blessing just to see the work displayed in a way that everyone can see. I wouldn’t be able to do it without my teammates, my coaches, the game plan. Just come here every day, work, grind, be very detailed in practice, meetings, just take notes, watch movies. Just stick to the game plan, stay detailed, stay prepared for everything.”
Now Coldon is retiring from college football. The Sooners finish the regular season at Texas Tech on Saturday night, and after that he’ll play in a bowl game and then hope to play in the NFL.
It is important to him to take advantage of these last chances.
“It just has to count every day because time is ticking,” he said. “It’s getting slimmer and slimmer by the day. There are still games left so just make it count.”
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