Nickell Robey-Coleman sat at a long white table in the Lakeview Park Community Center. Minutes away from officially signing a 3-year, $15.675 million contract to return to the Los Angeles Rams, Robey-Coleman just wanted to soak it all in.
He did, however, have something on his mind.
“It was like I can feel her here,” he said. “I can feel her spirit here but, man, there’s nothing like seeing her in person. If she could have seen this right here? I would probably say my bucket list is clear.”
That “her” is Maxine Robey, a mother who died too soon. Maxine died of heart failure at 44 years old in 2010 and Robey-Coleman has since adopted her maiden name of Coleman as a way to pay homage to her memory.
And so, on one of the biggest days of his life, he sat in the same neighborhood he grew up in. He spent Wednesday in Frostproof in the orange house at the end of a cul-de-sac south of Lake Clinch.
He re-signed with the Rams with what felt like the entire neighborhood around him.
“If my mom was here to share this moment with me,” he said. “It would be a priceless moment. That’s something that you can’t even put words to. My mom was such a loving person. It’s like she knew my life before it even happened.”
Robey-Coleman, 26, stands just 5-foot-8, but he’s never seen his size as a deterrent.
He starred at Frostproof High, playing every conceivable position over the years. He’s had plenty of people tell him he wasn’t fast enough or tall enough, but he found a way.
“If his mom was here, she would really thank y’all and thank God. She prayed for this day,” said Geanette Coleman, Robey-Coleman’s aunt. “It was two weeks before she died, she said, ‘Geanatte, there’s going to come a time where we don’t have to get help with the light bill.’"
"‘There’s going to be a time where we have two Bentleys just alike,’” she joked through tears. “It was God’s grace.”
Robey-Coleman left for Los Angeles in 2010, this time to play football at the University of Southern California. It was night and day, Frostproof and L.A., but he was a key member of the Trojans’ defense for three seasons at cornerback before forgoing his senior year to enter the NFL Draft.
They gathered at the community center for the draft that year, many of the same faces in the crowd on Wednesday. Robey-Coleman’s night ended in tears.
No team took a chance on the undersized defensive back, but the Buffalo Bills signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Robey-Coleman quickly found his niche as a slot corner, playing in every game over the next four seasons.
He intercepted three passes, returning two for touchdowns.
Sean McDermott replaced Rex Ryan as the Bills’ head coach in 2016. The team released Robey-Coleman late in training camp. After spending three of the best years of his life in Los Angeles during college, the Rams pounced and signed him prior to last season.
He responded with the best year of his career. Robey-Coleman played in 15 games, starting four, while picking off two passes along with forcing and recovering a fumble. The Rams, one of the NFL’s most underwhelming franchises over the previous 12 seasons, made the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“I didn’t realize how much of a year I was having,” he said. “I didn’t know it was that big. I was just playing football and that’s where I’m at my best — I was just playing football.”
Robey-Coleman is going back to school now and plans to get his degree in real estate development next year. It was what Maxine Robey wanted. While she’ll never be in the stands watching her son play out his new contract, he knows she’s watching from somewhere.
“This day right here,” he said. “Words can’t even explain how I feel.”