Coates enters spring with one goal in mind

911 people.
That is the official 2010 census of Leroy, Alabama, where 2A Leroy High School resides. The largest 6A high schools in Alabama have almost as many people in a senior class as Leroy does in their small farming town.
Coates caught 57 passes for 1,170 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior. He scored two touchdowns in a state championship win. But he only earned a ranking from as the nation's 71st best receiver.
So you can understand why Sammie Coates, a former 2A Back of the Year and state title game MVP, arrived in Auburn a year ago with a chip on his shoulder, with something to prove.
"A lot of people doubted me because I'm from a small school. I'm going to prove a lot of people wrong," Coates told last May.
In August of 2011, Coates was on track to do just that. Early reports from practices and individual workouts had Coates displaying ability that would have landed him on the field as a freshman, but his aspirations came to a sudden halt.
Coates suffered a right foot injury during the summer where a bone on the inside of his foot moved out of place, a sort of dislocation, and Coates was forced to have surgery that required two pins be inserted into the bone to stabilize it.
For the next month and a half after surgery, the receiver that ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash during an Auburn summer camp prior to his senior season at Leroy, was relegated to walking on crutches. It took time, but eventually Coates moved on from what could have been.
"I got the point where I guess I felt like it was meant to happen, so sit out and get ready for the next year," he said. "At first, it sucked, but as soon as I started getting back to my full speed it's been fun because I'm getting stronger and faster."
Coates rehabbed every day, and eventually he was rehabbing on his own with drive and determination. Exercise sessions consisted of picking up marbles with his right foot, then moving to toe raises, and on to squats as he strengthened his foot and leg that had weakened while he walked in a boot.
"It was hard work at first, but then it just turned into my daily routine," Coates said.
When Coates finally returned to the practice field after the LSU game on Oct. 22, the pure joy of being back in action, regardless of how intense, was a welcomed feeling of accomplishment.
"It was crazy" he said. "I was happy because I knew I was coming back real strong. I started thinking me sitting out will help me and help me improve. It didn't bother me after I got back on my feet."
Coates served as scout team receiver as the Tigers prepared for Alabama and the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He might not have been 100 percent, and he wasn't competing for a starting job, but Coates was eager to practice like he was in the spotlight.
The emerging receiver now enters spring practice feeling better than ever, but leaves room for improvement.
"I'd say I'm about 95 percent," Coates said. "I can run my full speed, but my cuts aren't all the way there yet."
Bigger. Stronger. Faster. Those are the things Coates focused on as he rehabbed his foot and prepared this winter and spring. Coates arrived at Auburn a year ago barely 180-pounds. He now stands at a lean and muscular 200-pounds, with the goal of weighing 205 to 210-pounds by the end of the summer.
And how has Coates speed progressed after a foot injury?
Coates and his fellow teammates recently ran laser-timed 40-yard dashes during morning workouts. Coates claims he clocked a 4.3 and a 4.29. By the way, Coates said he wasn't even the fastest, as Alabama transfer running back Corey Grant clocked a 4.24.
Coates has put his speed on full display during offseason workouts where quarterbacks Clint Moseley, Kiehl Frazier, and freshman Zeke Pike are finding it difficult to overthrow him.
"They try to throw it so early to get it right, but it's hard," Coates said. "If they throw it early, they can overthrow me, but if they do the proper steps and throw, they can't overthrow me."
Coates has been impressed with the leadership of the trio of signal callers battling for a starting position.
"It's going to be a good battle, they are showing good leadership," said Coates. "Most quarterbacks have to lead the team and they've been doing a good job of it."
Entering spring, Coates will work behind the Tigers' top pass catcher Emory Blake at the 'X'. Trovon Reed, Jaylon Denson, and Deangelo Benton will work at the opposite 'Z' position. Coates feels blessed to learn from Blake early in his career.
"He's been here and he's one of the best players we have here," said Coates. "Watching what he does will help me get my stuff down pat."
Coates and his fellow receivers are currently transitioning into a new offense under Scot Loeffler. An offense that Coates believes will allow for more involvement from the playmakers, something he desperately wants to prove he is this spring.
"I want to be that big playmaker that they need to make plays. That's what I'm working for," he said. "I want to show them that I'm that person they recruited and I still have my abilities and I can go make things happen. I want to be a playmaker and I'm going to show them a playmaker this spring."
The former baseball standout that hit close to .500 and recorded a 9-1 record on the mound as a senior at Leroy is now ready to earn a starting job at receiver on the gridiron. Coates admits he misses his baseball days every time he walks by Plainsman Park and hears a game going on.
"I do miss it, I wish I could play, it would be fun. I'm trying to see where football will take me, but if they let me play baseball, I would," he said.
But for now, Coates' mission is simple. Start, and validate all his hard work and rehab after last season's sudden setback.
"If I came back and started, it would mean a whole lot. It will show that I've been working my butt off to get that spot," said Coates. "That's my goal, to start."
His mission begins in one week.