This time last year, all but one of the area selections for football all-star games were in the stretch run of their junior campaign on the gridiron.

Aiken’s Dramel Coleman was gearing up for basketball season.

Before this year, the senior defensive back and running back hadn’t played football since his freshman year, when he was a receiver and tight end. As a result, he didn’t expect to reach the level he has, a selection for the North-South All-Star Football Game’s South roster.

“I thought I was just going to be one of the average players,” he said. “Just come out here, get the job done, do what I’ve got to do to win.”

He’s been well above average for the Hornets. While the team, with a record of 1-8, has not had much success on the field, Coleman has logged a team-high 494 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and has been even better on defense. A defensive back for the all-star event, the senior has 48 tackles and is tied for the area lead with five interceptions, three of which he’s returned for a touchdown.

“Anything in the air, I’ll be trying to go get it,” he said.

That includes an interception and touchdown return against Dutch Fork’s Derek Olenchuk, who has only thrown five interceptions all year.

Head coach Brian Neal, in his first year with the Hornets, made a point of finding athletes in the school that hadn’t been playing football in the past. He said he was directed toward Coleman, and he soon found out why.

“Everybody was talking about what a player he could be,” Neal said. “Instantly, when he got on the field and started running around, it didn’t take long to figure it out.”

Natural ability and a physical nature that also makes him a presence inside for the Hornets’ basketball team – despite being around 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds – are traits that Neal said were beneficial to his transition back to football.

“He’s a physical guy. He’s fast enough that he can run through tackles, and on the defensive side, he has a knack for finding the football,” Neal said. “He just has a nose for it and gets to it. With five interceptions, he gets to it pretty well.”

The coach added that because Coleman got such a late start with varsity football, he really hasn’t gotten a lot of college recruiting attention. He’s hoping the North-South selection will help with that, although Coleman said he wasn’t planning on focusing on the next level until after football season.

Regardless, he’s seen benefits to playing football, even if only for one season.

“Makes me feel good about myself, helping my culture, helping myself be a better person in life,” he said of the positive impact.

Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.