By this point in the pre-draft process most everyone interested in the NFL draft knows the name and the player Nick Fairley. NFL personnel executives and scouts are now gathering the last bits of information on the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Lombardi award winner. But there is a player on the Bills roster that knows him about as well as anyone.
Outside linebacker Antonio Coleman not only played with Fairley at Auburn, but in high school as well. Both are Mobile, Alabama natives and were two grades apart at Williamson high school.
It's almost scary to think about Coleman, who led the SEC in sacks his last year at Auburn, and Fairley on the same defensive line… in high school. Fairley however, was not a defensive lineman until his junior year.
"He was an offensive tackle," said Coleman in a March 9th phone interview with Buffalobills.com. "We went at it every day at practice. It was great. I don't think most people know that about him. He probably could've been an even greater offensive tackle because he's so athletic and agile. He even played a little tight end, defensive tackle and defensive end. He was real versatile."
So versatile and athletic that most observers felt that basketball would be the centerpiece of his athletic future.
"Nick was a great basketball player and led the team to a state championship," said Coleman. "I think most people thought he was going to be in basketball, but he went with football and took a different route and had to go to junior college."
Coleman was instrumental in convincing Fairley that Auburn was where he would enroll after getting his academics in order at Copiah-Lincoln junior college in Mississippi.
"After I left high school it's either Alabama or Auburn for guys down my way," Coleman said. "I chose Auburn and a lot of the guys I was close with at Williamson they wanted to go to Auburn. I made sure he knew what type of football team it was and every time I was home I was telling him about it. He actually came up to a couple of games to see how everything worked."
Major Division I college football proved to be a bit of an adjustment for Fairley in 2009, and as a result his first year with the Tigers he served in a rotational role on the defensive line.
"He wasn't a starter yet," Coleman said. "When Nick came in he was standing with (Defensive line) coach (Tracy) Rocker and he wasn't even playing yet and he was standing behind the goal posts with some glasses on. I'm looking down the field saying, 'Who is this guy?' I didn't recognize him. He kind of looked like a nerd. I remember coach Rocker saying he was going to be a great football player so it doesn't shock me he's in the position he's in right now."
Coleman claims he knew Fairley had the ability that he finally put on display this past season from the time he went against him in practice back at high school. He just thinks Fairley had no idea how dominant he could be.
"He's a big-bodied guy that has strength that I don't think even he knows he has and that was his problem up until my last year with him," he said. "He finally recognized the strengths that he had and his work ethic changed. Him being so versatile and being able to move around and come off the ball and all the power he packs in his punch is something I don't think any of the college guys can handle."
As Coleman sees it, Fairley has the power and strength of a defensive tackle as well as the athleticism of a pass rushing defensive end.
"You could easily stick him at tight end and he'd be a good tight end. He's just real athletic and that's what sets him apart from most defensive tackles that you see out there today," said Coleman. "He's probably one of the most athletic defensive tackles I've seen. (Ndamukong) Suh was real athletic coming out last year, but I'm talking about a guy that can 360 dunk a basketball at 300 pounds."
Knowing this is the time of year that NFL talent evaluators try to poke holes in a player's resume, Coleman isn't surprised to hear the term 'one-year wonder' attached to Fairley. His former high school and college teammate believes it's misplaced. Coleman feels Fairley is just beginning to scratch the surface of what he can become at the NFL level.
"The sky is the limit for him," he said. "As long as he keeps the right work ethic and stays dedicated to what he wants to do, he can be a great NFL football player for whatever team drafts him. He has to keep his head on straight and grind and not get complacent."
Fairley has all but promised that money won't change him and his desire to succeed.
"My momma will help me out," he said. "She's going to stay on me and keep me right. I think I play the game as it should be played. I play with a high motor. I hit a light switch when I hit the field and don't hit it off until I leave the field. Basically I just have to show that the one-hit wonder is not in me."
So while Fairley's single breakout 2010 season is giving some NFL personnel people pause, as far as his former teammate is concerned, he saw this coming all the way.
"When I was graduating last year at Auburn I specifically told people that he'd probably be one of the top picks coming out next year," Coleman said. "The words I remember using for him is, 'He's a monster.' He just proved everything I was telling people."