The USA Football Heart of a Giant award, presented by Hospital for Special Surgery and the New York Giants, recognizes high school football players in the tristate area for their unparalleled work ethic and passion for the game of football. This year's grand prize winner is Weequahic High School defensive lineman Duane Coleman.
Coleman received this year's award due to his courage and success playing for the Weequahic football team, despite having to navigate through some of life's tough challenges. He was diagnosed with autism and battled depression due to being overweight, all while adjusting to a new life after moving from Pennsylvania to Newark three years ago because of challenges back home. Instead of letting these obstacles bring him down, Coleman turned to football to help him overcome these difficulties.
Coleman currently attends John F. Kennedy School in Newark, a district-wide special education school, but joined the Weequahic High School football team in order to be able to strap on pads and hit the field. Since starting the Weequahic strength and conditioning program, he has lost over 100 pounds. Not only did Coleman turn his life around, but he made an impact on everyone around him. Upon observing his eating habits and discipline, classmates followed his lead and improved their diets. He also motivated his football teammates with his work ethic as he was the first to arrive and the last to leave each day. This is how he truly gained their respect and earned time on the field.
"That's when my life and joy and happiness started and I was motivated by losing weight and working hard to become a better person in life, on and off the field," Coleman said. "The commitment and dedication it took to keep a smile on my face when most kids would have thrown in the towel."
Giants tight end Evan Engram, along with HSS Sports Medicine Surgeon & Associate Team Physician Dr. Samuel Taylor, visited with students, staff and faculty at JFK School last month for a surprise presentation to announce Coleman as this year's recipient of the Heart of a Giant award. Coleman received a $10,000 equipment grant for the Weequahic High School football program, was recognized on the field at MetLife Stadium during the Giants' Week 15 win over the Miami Dolphins, and has been awarded a trip to Super Bowl LIV in Miami, Florida.
"He is thriving in school and his community. Duane's life is better today because of football," said Weequahic High School's Head Football Coach Brian Logan.
Through the USA Football Heart of a Giant program, high school coaches from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut can nominate athletes for a chance to win an equipment grant for their program. The grant awarded to the grand prize winner was raised this year from $5,000 to $10,000, while the other nine finalists each received a $1,000 equipment grant.
In 2018, the Heart of a Giant program was named as a finalist for the ESPN Sports Humanitarian Award in the Corporate Community Impact category.