It has been one year since my teammate, brother and friend - Mandel Coleman - has been gone. And you'll have to excuse me because it's very hard talking about someone you care about who is no longer here.
Yes, I'm still having a hard time not being able to see that engaging smile and hear that huge, booming laugh. I'm still having a hard time not being able to shake his hand and embrace him with love. And I'm still having a hard time coping with the fact that I never got the opportunity to thank him for being a part of my life.
Mandel Coleman, an all-state running back for Meadowcreek High School in Norcross from 1987-90, died last year of heart aliments and complications at the age of 34. He left behind a wonderful wife and friend - Brangela - and two wonderful children.
Now that I've mentioned how Mandel passed and what he left behind, I want to talk about the way he lived.
Mandel came to Georgia by-way of the Bronx, New York in the spring of '87. Meadowcreek was just two years old and suffering from growing pains. We were entering our second season, and faced a very difficult schedule for the upcoming football season.
Mandel, a freshman, was 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds. He began his football career working with the incoming freshmen team during spring practice. One day - after an impressive practice involving Mandel and the junior varsity offense going up against the first team defense - assistant coach Bob Pridegen told Mandel to work with the first team offense.
He never looked back.
Mandel had a blend of power and speed that was breath taking. He caused defenders to grab nothing but air, as he used his tall and lanky frame to power his way into the end zone for touchdowns. The crowd would jump and scream with excitement. On those special nights under the cool autumn sky, Mandel showed no mercy.
Meadowcreek's first head coach - Kevin Maloof - was excited because Mandel would be essential in creating an offensive rushing attack like no other in Gwinnett County. In addition, Maloof had him for all four years.
During those four years at Meadowcreek, Mandel became its all-time leading rusher.
Eventually, Mandel blossomed into a 6'2" 200 lb. scoring machine, rushing for 3,000-plus yards and 46 touchdowns. He made the Gwinnett County All-County football team (honorable mention his freshman year and first team his last three), and still holds 10 school records.
Mandel went on to receive all-state Honors in '90. Eventually, he would become a special teams' threat for Georgia Military College in Milledgeville.
But with many accolades on the field, Mandel made a lot of mistakes off of it. Toward the end, he fought those mistakes - and won redemption of his life.
I knew Mandel was in the fight of his life, yet through his faith in Christ, he took one day at a time and was forever grateful just to see another day.
When I was going though a painful period in my life and wanted to end it all, Mandel taught me that life was far too precious to simply throw away. His death gave me life; I only wish that I could give my life to him because he deserves to see his children grow up to be great people.
However, I understand God's will is done and that Mandel would appreciate the offer, but he is in heaven watching down on us and isn't missing a beat. The life and times of Mandel Coleman lives within me and that is good enough.
God has you, Mandel...I'm at peace knowing that.
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