Nassir Coleman kept a busy schedule all summer.
The Abraham Lincoln High School senior spent the lazy days of summer working out with the basketball team in the morning, spent afternoons running and lifting with his friends on the football team and then he worked nights as a sales associate selling shoes.
At the time, he thought he was doing it to make sure he had a solid senior year.
He had no idea at the time he was on the verge of two historic seasons.
“I knew we had talent in both sports, but you never think it’s going to be that good,” said Coleman, who helped Lincoln win its first football playoff game since 1989 during the fall. “Football was great. We did things nobody expected us to.”
And nobody expected the Railsplitters to still be playing into the third week of March, but that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Thanks to a balanced effort, Lincoln was able to knock off Conestoga 66-60 in overtime Saturday in the Class AAAAAA playoffs at South Philadelphia High School. It was the first time Lincoln won a state playoff game.
“I can’t believe it, I still don’t believe we did it,” said Coleman, who scored two points and was a disruptive force all night on defense. “All season, one of our assistant coaches (Jamel Lindsey) would yell, ‘States!’ I didn’t believe it. Now we’re all yelling it. We didn’t know we could do it, but as we got better and better, now we all believe.”
They have their fans believing, too.
If you’re a longtime fan of the Railsplitters, you probably remember the team competing in empty gymnasiums.
And even last year, when Lincoln was starting to improve, Coleman had a tough time recruiting his friends to come to see the team play.
“People would always tell us we were going to lose and we didn’t have a good team,” Coleman said. “But the culture has changed. Everyone now loves to come. Last year, we were playing in front of 20 fans. Now we’re packing them in.
“And before, people would say, ‘You’re going to lose.’ Now, they tell us we’re going to win. It’s fun to see how we changed everyone’s outlook. We changed the culture.”
Coleman has had a huge role in the Railsplitters’ resurgence in both football and basketball.
During the fall, Coleman plays wideout. In his winter sport, he doesn’t really have a position. He’s Lincoln’s swiss army knife.
“We have a big lineup and a small lineup, and I play completely different roles on them,” Coleman said. “In the big lineup, I play point guard. When we go to our small lineup, I play underneath. I don’t care what position I play. I’m not a guard, I’m not a big guy, I’m a matchup problem. I try to give the other team problems.”
It definitely helps that Coleman has the size (he stands 6-foot-4) and athleticism to play anywhere on the floor. The real reason he can do it is because when Lincoln coach Al Brown talks, his star pupil is always listening.
“I know every position on the floor, everything,” Coleman said. “I’m a student of the game. I listen to everything he says. You can learn so much by listening. I try to be like a coach on the court. When we need to do something, I make sure I know what we’re doing.”
That’s the kind of player Brown likes having on his squad.
“He’s a great leader, he provides a lot of senior leadership,” Brown said. “And he’s a great defender. He has a huge wingspan and he uses that to play defense. He puts in a lot of work on the defensive end.”
While his primary concern is nailing down a state championship, Coleman is also doing his best to find a school where he can continue his basketball career.
“I want to study communications and hopefully be a basketball analyst,” Coleman said. “I want to do something where I can be around sports. Football or basketball would be good. I love both of them and I want to be around sports for a job.”
If he continues to play the way he did on Saturday, a school will be lucky to get him.
And while his future school is important, right now he’s worried about the task at hand.
In fact, the entire team is focused on the next win.
“The players deserve all of the credit,” Brown said. “Hats off to them. We come up with a plan, but they go out and execute it. We ask a lot of them, and they come through. They are the reason we won today.”
Coleman is optimistic the upward trend will continue. He’s leaving after this year, but the Railsplitters have a lot of young players who could make the team formidable for years.
And next year, they’ll have a new fan in the stands, no recruiting necessary.
“We still have games left this year, but we’re going to be good for a while,” Coleman said. “It’s all about the culture. The attitude. Last year, it was like we were waiting to lose. Now we think we’re going to win every game.
“This was a great year, and it’s the start of great things. I’ll be watching them. We’re going to be good for a while.” ••
In other boys games
Archbishop Ryan 79, Parkland 55: Matiss Kulackovskis scored 25 points and Izaiah Brockington added 22 as the Raiders won their first state playoff game in school history.
Point guard Amin Bryant also had a strong outing, scoring nine points with nine rebounds and 10 assists.
The Raiders will move on to face Central Dauphin East, which upset Abington in the first round, on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in the first half of a doubleheader at Garden Spot in New Holland.
Ryan, which improved to 22-5 with the victory, will play in the first half of a doubleheader.
The Railsplitters will play in the second game of the night. ••