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High school football: Unexpected journey has led East Hall graduate Lee Coleman to happiness as coach at Georgia Military College
On Friday, Bulldogs will host Cherokee Bluff in Milledgeville
Lee Coleman
Georgia Military College coach Lee Coleman, an East Hall High graduate, instructs players during a recent practice in Milledgeville. Photo courtesy Gil Pound

Lee Coleman firmly believes everything in his life is about timing. The 32-year-old from Gainesville is quite content with his career path.

Other football coaching opportunities, in the past, didn’t pan out, he said, because it wasn’t meant to be. 

However, one thing was for sure, prior to becoming Georgia Military College’s coach in 2019: this East Hall High graduate wasn’t seeking a position in the high school ranks.

But it’s funny how life has a way of working itself out. 

Coleman, a football and basketball star for the Vikings from 2003-2006, said he’s at the right place, leading the Bulldogs' high school program, which is looking for its first winning season since 2011 and first playoff appearance in 18 years.

“I’m very excited about where I’m at right now,” said Coleman, 32, who played his college football from 2007-2010 at Northwestern University. “The Lord told me this is where I need to be.”

After college, Coleman spread his wings and spent time as an academic graduate assistant at Pittsburgh (2011), then a football graduate assistant at Arizona for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. 

He had every intention of moving upward and onward in college football, possibly the NFL. 

Then Georgia Military College, a two-year program came calling. He spent the next five seasons working as a position coach with the junior college program, but hungry for more. 

Other interviews came and went without landing a job. 

That is, until the high school position at Georgia Military College came open. Skeptical at first, Coleman listened to the advice of his father, Randy, and put his name in the hat. 

Now Lee Coleman is a high school coach with a very bright future — whether it be in high school or college is still to be determined — ahead of him. 

“I tell Lee that he’s built for this,” said Robbie Bailey, the co-offensive coordinator at East Hall when Coleman was starting quarterback and Team MVP from 2003-2005. “He’s got that ability to take kids who are average and really make them excel.

“He’s got a wonderful personality and people are drawn to Lee.“

Since becoming football coach, Coleman has added the titles of boys basketball coach and boys track and field coach to his titles with Georgia Military College, his father mentioned. 

However, football is where Coleman remains focused. 

On Friday, the matchup for Georgia Military College hits very close to home for Coleman. 

The Bulldogs will host the third-year program Cherokee Bluff (2-0) at Davenport Field. 

The ties for this one run deep.

Not only is Coleman a legend among high school athletes to come from Hall County, but Randy is an assistant boys basketball coach at Cherokee Bluff.

Lee Coleman is well aware of what the Bears bring to the field and is eager for his youthful program to play against someone from Hall County. 

The matchup came together during the offseason when Georgia Military College and Cherokee Bluff were both were facing a hole in their schedule in May when Gainesville’s Riverside Military Academy canceled their 2020 season, due to coronavirus concerns. 

Georgia Military’s coach said that Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones first approached him with the proposition to play. 

The Bulldogs’ coach jumped at it for a number of reasons.

Georgia Military College may not be quite to the level of Cherokee Bluff yet, Lee quipped, but he’s eager to face a Bears program that is brimming with talent and should be a contender in 2020 for the Region 7-3A title. 

“Coach Jones does a great job with the program at Cherokee Bluff, and I really want my team to get to play someone from Hall County,” said Coleman, who was also point guard for two state championship basketball teams (2003 and 2005) in Class 2A at East Hall. “I know Cherokee Bluff has a great running back. 

“They’re going to run, run, run and then play-action pass on us.”

This season, Coleman was originally excited about playing Riverside Military Academy, a rivalry that Georgia Military College used to play regularly. The matchup with 30 prior meetings dating back to 1911 even has a name: The Military Bowl. 

However, forces beyond his control took that opportunity away this season. 

Now, his attention is focused on playing the newest school in Flowery Branch. 

Coleman is not at all surprised by the success that Cherokee Bluff is currently experiencing. The Bears beat Johnson 44-0 in Week 1, then beat Chestatee 49-14 in Week 2.

Last week, Cherokee Bluff had a bye to prepare for the game in Milledgeville. 

Cherokee Bluff is led by junior running back Jayquan Smith who currently has 200 yards, while senior wide receiver Jaylon Justice is a big-play threat when he gets open. 

“Right away, my dad said they got a great running back at Cherokee Bluff,” Lee said with a chuckle.”They have some tremendous athletes on that team”

For Lee Coleman, facing Cherokee Bluff is particularly appealing from a matchup standpoint. 

The Bears have ultra-talented Kansas University commit Shad Dabney, who played three years at Riverside Military Academy before needing a new school to play for in 2020, as their star in the secondary. Coleman wanted his sophomore wide receiver Caleb Bush see how he could play against Dabney. However, that matchup will not happen since Bush is sidelined with a broken ankle, Coleman said.

Coleman also has a keen eye on Dabney on offense. Even though Dabney only has five carries and four catches in 2020, he’s always a threat to bust a big play with the ball in hands. 

Georgia Military’s football coach is familiar with the vast majority of Cherokee Bluff’s skillplayers via his father’s strong basketball connections in Hall County. Lee’s father has been an assistant since 2006 for coach Benjie Wood, with previous stints at North Hall and Gainesville. 

Cherokee Bluff’s leading wide receiver is the son of its girls basketball coach, Lindsay Justice. 

With ties to both schools, Randy Coleman had the most diplomatic take on the football came with his son coaching on one sideline and the school where he helps coach the boys basketball program on the other.

“I hope Cherokee Bluff loses very well,” Lee’s father said. “I have to love and support my son.”

The younger Coleman said his first interview as a head coach came at East Hall, following Bryan Gray’s departure as head coach after the 2017 season. The Vikings opted for an interim coach in 2018 from its staff, Scott Patrick, before hiring Michael Perry in 2019. 

Coleman said he was told by the school’s administration that he wasn’t picked for the job where he went to high school, simply because of a lack of prior head-coaching experience. 

A native of Gainesville, Perry was head coach at Centennial before coming to East Hall. 

In return, Coleman was offered the position as offensive coordinator with East Hall, which he said he turned down to pursue other opportunities. 

Bailey said it could have been a blessing in disguise that Coleman’s first head coaching job isn’t where he is such a well-known person and former athlete.

Lee Coleman reiterated that it was all about timing. 

“I’m okay with how it went at East Hall, and I still have a great relationship with everyone there,” Coleman said. “Michael Perry was the right person for the job.”

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