2010 Pack Is More Than 'Good Enough'
Dec. 21, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. - Audie Cole had only one answer last year when his friends back in Michigan asked, "Hey, why aren't you guys in a bowl game?"
With a pang in the pit of his stomach, Cole responded, "We weren't good enough."
So Cole took solace the best way he knows how, spending much of his winter break deer hunting at his family's cabin near the Canadian border. He bagged a couple of bucks and avoided watching the lineup of bowl games.
"It was miserable," Cole said.
The disappointment of spending the holidays at home lingered throughout the spring and into the summer. It was a big part of Cole's motivation for his junior season: to help improve the Wolfpack's defense so he wouldn't have to spend another winter break in the woods.
This year, Cole and his teammates were good enough, not only to qualify for a postseason bowl game but also to challenge for the ACC championship. The Wolfpack (8-4) heads to Orlando on Thursday to begin preparations for the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 28 against West Virginia.
"Last year was kind of upsetting, not just to us, but to everyone in the community who watches us," Cole said. "I'm proud of where we are now. I think we could've done better, but I'm proud of where we're going."
Cole still finds his solace in hunting - he goes duck hunting at Jordan Lake three times a week with teammates Colby Jackson and Jeff Reiskamp - but the only flying creatures he plans to track while in Orlando are Donald Duck at Disney World or maybe a stray hippogriff at Universal Studios' new "Wizarding World of Harry Potter."
The junior linebacker, known for his stoic answers to the media, perked up when talking about going to the theme parks that made Orlando famous.
"I think it's going to be a great time," Cole said. "I haven't been to Disney World in about 12 years. I wasn't too happy with it the first time I was there. I was a little too young at the time to appreciate it. There was too much walking around.
"I think I got sick or something, because I had a milkshake and it was hot and I threw up. Hopefully, this will be a better trip this time."
Cole is certainly hoping for a better outcome than the Wolfpack's last postseason game, when it lost in a second-half comeback to Rutgers in the 2008 Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. The Scarlet Knights came back in the second half, after the Wolfpack lost starting quarterback Russell Wilson to a knee injury on the final play of the first half.
"We had a good time together at the bowl," Cole said. "But I think this one is going to be a lot better."
Tuesday, Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien plans to begin preparing for the Mountaineers (9-3). Until now, the Wolfpack has been working on fundamentals, treating its first two weeks of bowl preparation as an earlier version of spring practice.
"We've worked basically on getting better as a football team to this point," O'Brien said. "We'll turn our attention to West Virginia."
He wants to make sure that the Wolfpack has some knowledge of its opponent before it gets to Orlando, but didn't want to overdo it before he and the team left for the bowl site.
And while he wants Cole and the rest of his players to have fun, one of the reasons O'Brien has an excellent postseason record is that he makes sure his teams know the purpose of their bowl trip.
"Our kids have always gone to win the football game," O'Brien said. "It hasn't always been about the trip. We show up to play the game. We want to win."
• Tim Peeler, firstname.lastname@example.org.