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From small school to big stage: Former Wilde Lake receiver Isaiah Coulter ‘grateful’ to be drafted by Texans

Rhode Island wide receiver Isaiah Coulter runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020.
Rhode Island wide receiver Isaiah Coulter runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (Michael Conroy/AP)

As a combo tight end/wide receiver in Wilde Lake High School’s Wing-T, run-first offense, Isaiah Coulter gleaned the value of blocking well.

“I pretty much learned that you’ve got to do a whole lot of blocking in that type of offense,” he recalled. “You’ve got to block first and run first because that opens up the passing and play-action and things like that. And whenever [the ball] comes your way, you’ve got to make it count because you might not get another one for the rest of the game. With that mentality, I brought it over to receiver, and for the rest of my career, I’ve always just wanted to make my chances count.”

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Coulter, 21, proved his merit as a wide receiver at Rhode Island, and that path was validated Saturday when the 6-foot-3, 190-pound wideout was selected in the fifth round (171st overall) of the NFL draft by the Houston Texans.

He became the first Rams players to be drafted since center Bob White was taken by the New York Jets in the seventh round in 1986.

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Coulter, who elected to forgo his senior year at Rhode Island, was glad that he could avoid the undrafted rookie market.

“I had a feeling, but you never really know,” he said of getting chosen. “You just have to leave it up to God. But I felt like I had a great college career, and I felt like at the [NFL scouting] combine, I put up pretty good numbers and put my best foot forward. So I felt like I was going to get that chance whether it was the fifth round, the sixth round or the seventh round. I’m just grateful that the Texans drafted me.”

Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming was nearly as happy as Coulter was.

“I think it’s a great fit for him,” said Fleming, who was the defensive coordinator at Brown University when the tight ends coach was current Houston coach and general manager Bill O’Brien.

“The biggest thing that all of these kids want to have the opportunity to do is to continue to go ahead and play past the college level. He now has that opportunity, and I’m sure he will make the most of it. So I’m thrilled to see what Houston will be able to do to take advantage of him. I think he’ll bring a lot to the table.”

Coulter’s path began after catching six passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns as a junior at Wilde Lake in 2015. He then transferred to Gwynn Park High School in Prince George’s County, where he finished with 40 receptions for 755 yards and 14 scores.

Duke and Ohio University expressed interest, but did not make any concrete offers. So Coulter chose the Rams over Towson, Maine and Stony Brook in part because his older cousin and fellow wide receiver Aaron Parker was already there. (Parker, who is a year older, agreed Sunday to an undrafted rookie contract with the Dallas Cowboys.)

After totaling 60 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns in his first two seasons at Rhode Island, Coulter exploded last fall when he had 72 receptions for 1,039 yards and eight scores, becoming the seventh player in program history to reach the 1,000-yard mark in receiving.

Rams wide receivers coach Donovan Varner said Coulter possesses both speed and quickness.

“You can be straight-line fast and you can go, but you can’t necessarily stop and start fast,” Varner said. “I think his quickness is more of a lateral thing, and he can stop and start at different break points. I think that’s the difference for him.”

At the combine in February, Coulter clocked a 40-yard time of 4.45 seconds, which ranked as the 10th-fastest showing among wide receivers.

He acknowledged the importance of that performance.

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“I feel like it helped my case out a lot, just going out there and showing them that I’ve got room to grow,” he said. “And you can work with 4.4 speed. I feel like with that speed and just working on your craft every day, you can learn new ways to separate and really take the top off. So I felt like that really helped me out a lot, showing them that I can run a little bit.”

Coulter acknowledged that he couldn’t help feeling vindicated after getting selected by Houston.

“Just coming out of high school and not getting those big offers, I feel like it just put a chip on your shoulder,” he said. “So I feel like because I didn’t get those big offers, a goal of mine was to just get drafted because I wanted to prove myself that you can make it from a smaller school and get that opportunity to play on that big stage.”

Coulter will join the Texans’ other four draft choices and eight rookie free agents for the team’s virtual offseason regimen, which includes no on-field work because of the coronavirus pandemic. O’Brien said that the pressure will be on the rookies to absorb the offensive and defensive playbooks as quickly as possible.

“I think that we took a lot of that into account,” O’Brien told the team’s website.

“When you look at [TCU defensive tackle] Ross [Blacklock] and [Florida outside linebacker] Jon [Greenard] and [North Carolina offensive tackle] Charlie [Heck] and [Penn State cornerback] John Reid and Isaiah Coulter, you’re talking about mature guys, guys that have overcome adversity in their lives, guys that understand work ethic, guys that understand how important practice is, guys that understand what it means to be a good teammate and be hungry and humble. I think we got those type of guys with all these guys.”

Coulter joins a Texans wide receiver corps led by Kenny Stills and Will Fuller, but is coping with the franchise’s decision to trade DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals. Varner said that Coulter could thrive in that situation.

“He’s a fierce competitor,” Varner said. “He’s going to learn from the older guys, and I think he has the elite skill set that he’s going to continue to develop. Once he gets freshened up a bit, he will be an impact player for the Houston Texans.”

Coulter said he is looking forward to playing with quarterback Deshaun Watson, whom he watched lead Clemson to the 2017 College Football Playoff national championship.

“It will probably feel surreal,” he said. “Just watching him from when he was playing at Clemson and just watching him do his thing ever since, he’s a great quarterback. It’s going to be great. I’m definitely going to enjoy that.”

Another aspect that Coulter will enjoy is the warmer climate of Houston and Texas. After growing up in Maryland and Rhode Island, he said he is ready to get away from the cold.

“I truly just wanted to get on a team and just get an opportunity. Any team that picked me, I would have been grateful,” he said. “But just going to Houston and just knowing that it’s a warm city, those are some bonus points.”

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