Cole Looking to Lead Pack's Defense
Aug. 25, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. - After sweating through another sultry morning football practice, Audie Cole looked forward to spending a leisurely afternoon searching for prime hunting spots around Jordan Lake.
But wait. There was still a long interview session, followed by a photo shoot for a TV network that required NC State's senior linebacker to shed his red shorts, dark T-shirt and blue baseball cap and suit up again in full uniform.
It's been that way this preseason for the media friendly Cole, whose athletic prowess, move to middle linebacker, and photogenic features attract attention.
His muscular 6-foot-4, 245 pound physique, crowned with a long, wavy coiffure, has prompted some to call him "Thor," the movie hero. His looks also have been likened to that of long-haired Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. Others say he resembles "Sunshine" in the football film, Remember The Titans.
"I get it all the time,'' said Cole, smiling and shrugging about the names game.
These days, just being Audie Cole is pretty nice.
After two stellar seasons at outside linebacker, he appears primed to make another name for himself as a middle linebacker, the spot vacated by former All-America and current NFL rookie Nate Irving.
The switch has required a few adjustments. But the transition from outside backer hasn't overwhelmed Cole, whose skill, savvy and penchant for contact make him a good fit for the new position.
If he's feeling added pressure about trying to fill the void left by Irving, the stress doesn't show in his cool countenance.
"I have different reads...have a little more communication,'' he said matter-of-factly. "I still make mistakes, (but) when I make a mistake, I know how to correct it. It's not like I'm lost out there. I'm pretty true to my assignments."
He gives considerable credit to linebacker coach Jon Tenuta, who has taught him on the field, analyzed film with him, and helped make him a more astute student of the game.
"It's not a big change; he's a linebacker,'' said Tenuta, who revels in the way Cole has responded. "He's a tremendous football player. He can play any of the linebacker positions.
"He's over 6-4, weighs 245 pounds, can run; he's tough as anybody. He really enjoys football. He's very smart. He studies the game, his passion. He knows how to play blocks, how to blitz. He does all the little things and works at the little things."
Head coach Tom O'Brien likes the way Cole embraced the position change, how he communicates on the field and assumes leadership responsibility that goes with his new role.
"Audie has very good instincts, understands angles, and knows defense. He's not overwhelmed by anything out there,'' O'Brien observed. "He gets everybody lined up, gets everybody going in the right direction."
"He's definitely a leader on the field,'' added Jeff Reiskamp, Cole's roommate and hunting buddy.
Is he perfect? No.
"Like everybody else, he has a few mental lapses,'' O'Brien said. "But the more he plays, the better he will be."
* * * * *
Early in his Wolfpack career, Cole caught the coaches' eyes with his pad-popping aggression.
Rewind to his redshirt-freshman year. When subbing in a game at Maryland, Cole confessed to feeling "lost." Yet while uncertain about his assignments, he went after the Terps with boom-or-bust abandon.
That's still his style, a style that also impressed Pat Teague, who starred as a Wolfpack linebacker in the 1980s.
"First time I saw him he came off the edge and made a tackle,'' Teague said, recalling a violent hit of a few seasons back. "I said: `I'm going to enjoy watching him.' I liked the way he attacked the line of scrimmage."
Carefree and easygoing off the field, Cole competes with the tenacity of a boxer, which he was as a teenager. And that's in whatever sport he's involved -- be it football, frisbee or fishing.
It's that competitive fire, plus a desire to be the best, that fuels him. Last year Cole, Irving and Terrell Manning, the starting linebackers, kept each other sharp by creating competition among themselves in practice and during games.
"We'd come to the sidelines and brag a little about who had the most tackles," Cole said. " It's good competition.''
As a redshirt-sophomore in 2009, Cole led the Pack in hits with 85. Last season he shared the tackle lead with Irving, making 97 stops, including 10.5 sacks.
He was never finer than in State's fourth consecutive win over North Carolina, when he racked up Tar Heel ball carriers with a career-tying 13 tackles.
"I learned a lot from Nate,'' said Cole, who plans to study last year's tapes of Irving and note how the All-American played against certain teams.
Cole doesn't do anything special to psyche himself up. Observe him on game day and you might think he's getting ready to go fishing or hunting -- two of his hobbies -- instead of playing football. His pre-kickoff ritual is mostly to kick back and relax rather than deplete his energy battling butterflies.
"That's the way I've always seen it,'' he said. "I probably get that from my Dad -- why get excited before the game? If the game's at 3:15, I'm not going until 3:15."
At 3:15, or whenever it's game time, he flips an emotional switch from laid back to laying it all on the line.
With several players already on the injured list, the Pack prays Cole will stay healthy.
Sometimes, when in a playful mood, he grabs a pair of crutches and hobbles around, creating a few double takes.
"I joke about getting hurt,'' said Cole, who is not the least bit superstitious. " I know if I would get hurt it would have nothing to do with my walking around on crutches.
"George Bryan (tight end) gets so mad at me. It drives him crazy. I think I do it to irritate George."
* * * *
Cole was born into an athletic family in Monroe, Mich. Dad Audie Sr., was a standout college baseball player who made the Sports Hall-of-Fame at Eastern Michigan and played professionally in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system.
Early on, Audie Sr. saw his son's athletic potential, noting that he had God-given gifts of size, speed and desire.
"Everyone says I'm just like my Dad,'' said young Audie, reflecting on the man he calls his hero. "In high school all I ever heard was how great my Dad was. I was always `Audie's kid. That was one thing that drove me to play football..."
"He was good enough to play baseball,'' Audie Sr. said. "But I always thought he would play football. He loves football. He made the right decision."
Young Audie was an all-round prep athlete who lettered in basketball and baseball and even boxed for a short spell. Monroe was a big fight town back then, so at age 14 he put on gloves and displayed his pugnacity in the ring.
Cole sparred in Detroit, in Toledo "and everywhere in between." He remembers throwing punches in run-down gyms, garages, and basements.
In his first official bout, he faced a fighter in a heavier weight class and lost. A resilient Cole won the rematch and later defeated another opponent for a 2-1 career novice record. He gave up boxing at 16, preferring to do all his hitting on the football field.
Cole saw action in high school at linebacker and free safety, but made his mark at quarterback. He could run and he could throw, passing for 3,285 yards and 23 career touchdowns.
What Cole refused to do as a QB was avoid taking a hit, sliding or running out of bounds.
Audie Sr. suggested it might be wise for him to go out of bounds sometime instead of risk getting hurt.
"That'll never happen, Dad,`" said Cole, never one to cower.
Rivals.com ranked him among the top 30 prospects in the state and Michigan recruited him as a quarterback until it got a commitment from Ryan Mallett, who eventually wound up at Arkansas.
O'Brien and his assistants, then at Boston College, were among the first to peg Cole as a defensive prospect.
So when most of the BC staff came to Raleigh, Cole -- recruited by Wolfpack assistant Jim Bridge -- narrowed his choices to Cincinnati and State.
"I visited Cincinnati and the school was nice,'' he said. "Then I came here. I enjoyed it. I liked the school and liked how coach O'Brien was honest. He told me I would never play quarterback, that I would play defense. I appreciated that.
"I've learned from Coach O'Brien and Coach Tenuta -- lessons for life," he added.
Cole was raised on a solid foundation. His father and mother (Betsy) taught him that all people are equal and to respect everybody.
They didn't force him into sports, but have enjoyed watching him play. Both attend all Wolfpack games, home and away. Sometimes they fly. On many occasions they've made the 11-hour, 690-mile trip from Monroe to Raleigh by van.
"Fly or drive, we wouldn't miss,'' Audie Sr. said.
* * * *
Cole's early years as State were more grueling than glamorous. Scout team his first season. Thirty-eight plays as a redshirt-freshman, barely enough to break a sweat. At that time he focused on improving in football more than excelling in the classroom.
With maturity, his approach to academics changed and so did his GPA. A program management major, he's made the ACC Honor Roll two straight years.
Like many of his teammates, Cole contributes off the field as well and last year received an award for community service. He reads to children in local schools and has helped with other projects.
That concurs with O'Brien's philosophy of being a champion in the classroom, a champion on the field, and a champion in the community.
* * * *
The schedule can get well, hairy for Cole, just as it does for lots of Division I college athletes.
But he generally handles life's ebb and flow with reasonable equanimity.
"He's laid back, a California boy (from Michigan),'' said Reiskamp. "He's an enjoyable person. He's a standup guy."
"There's no need to worry about things you can't control,'' Cole said. "I go with what happens. I don't get worked up about a lot of things."
As for the future, life after State, Cole is still pondering. He'd like to play football at the next level, and then maybe get into coaching, or maybe become a paramedic or a fire fighter.
Overall, his "Bucket List" isn't overloaded.
"In football I'd like to win a championship. I've never won one in high school or here," he said. "(And) I'd like to do skydiving; I think that would be a great rush."
Jumping out of an airplane can come later. Now's the time to win that championship, to make mayhem, to make it happen.