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Oregon football star returns from heart surgery to earn Division I scholarship

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Almost four years since cardiologists told him, "You'll never play football again," and less than a year after undergoing open heart surgery, Portland (Ore.) Jesuit High senior Xavier Coleman earned the Division I football scholarship he always dreamed of.

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Portland State recruit Xavier Coleman underwent open heart surgery in July 2012 -- OregonLive.com

Portland State recruit Xavier Coleman underwent open heart surgery in July 2012 -- OregonLive.com

Coleman's remarkable recovery, sandwiching three state titles in basketball and track between a dominating freshman football campaign and a return to the gridiron this past fall, is chronicled wonderfully by the Beaverton Leader's Connor Letourneau.

"I looked into miracles earlier in high school and I'm like, 'Nah. That's not how things happen,'" Xavier told Letourneau. "But after this whole thing, I really do believe in them."

And for good reason. After fainting twice over a span of a few days as a Jesuit freshman in December 2009 and his subsequent diagnosis of a congenital heart defect (bicuspid aortic valve), doctors reportedly ruled out football indefinitely for the burgeoning prospect.

"Why?" Coleman asked his mother Christine after flipping a few chairs and punching a couple walls. "That's my dream he's talking about! Why is this happening to me?"

That didn't stop him from leading the Crusaders to back-to-back Class 6A state championships as the starting point guard on their basketball team or running a leg on the winning 4x400-meter relay squad this May as part of Jesuit's 6A track and field title.

Still, football is Coleman's true passion, and the gridiron is where he found his real salvation. Despite his success on basketball courts and in sprinting lanes, he constantly worried about his heart condition, the Beaverton Leader story explained.

"Who at the age of 15 is thinking about dying?" Christine Coleman added. "But he did."

Sure enough, Coleman's June 2012 sonogram returned the image of an enlarged heart that worked at just 40 percent capacity. While initially resisting the idea of open heart surgery, Coleman eventually relented to its reality.

On July 20, a Stanford University Medical Center surgeon conducted a nine-hour procedure that sawed through Coleman's chest -- and opened the possibility of a return to football. Reading Jesuit football coach Ken Potter's playbook while recovering in the hospital, Coleman circled Game 7 of his senior season as his target return date.

When doctors cleared Coleman to play just three months later, an injury to his starting cornerback enabled Potter to start the once highly coveted recruit opposite Oregon-bound wideout Thomas Tyner in an Oct. 19 game against Beaverton (Ore.) Aloha High.

With a little over five minutes remaining, Coleman jumped the slot receiver's route and returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown to cap a 56-13 rout, the Beaverton Leader detailed, sending his family, teammates and entire school into a frenzy.

"I didn't really know whether to cry, scream or what," Coleman told the Leader.

After starting Jesuit's remaining five games, including a state semifinals appearance, Coleman walked off the field satisfied with reaching his goal of returning to football.

Soon, though, another goal came knocking on his door, when Portland State University head football coach Nigel Burton offered him a scholarship -- thanks in part to Potter's insistence that Coleman was a Pac-12 prospect if not for his health issues.

On Tuesday, the Beaverton Leader handed him its first Athlete of the Year honor. While Coleman's aortic valve may once have been a concern, there's no questioning his heart.

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