KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Playing in the NFL is a common dream amongst young football players. While natural talent helps them join the less than 2% to play major professional football out of college, it also takes a different level of commitment and love for the game. And Farragut head football coach saw that in Cole Strange from a young age.
“I’ve been coaching a long time, but Cole is special, he really is,” said Farragut Head Football Coach Eddie Courtney. “Cole has always worked extremely hard. He’s got that blue-collar mentality, smart kid. But football has been his passion.”
Strange played at linebacker, defensive end, and at tight end in high school. He earned All-State honors and was named the KIL Defensive Player of the Year. However, he found a new home on the offensive line at Chattanooga.
Strange started in 44 games for the Mocs. He helped Chattanooga rush for 205.5 yards per game this past season, while also helping tie a school record of nine sacks allowed.
A versatile lineman, Strange started out at right tackle before finding a more permanent residence at left guard. The 6’6”, 310-pound athlete also spent time lining up at left tackle and filling in at center. In 2019, Cole became the signal-caller of the offensive line after injuries depleted the Moc’s depth.
“He [Strange’s coach] told me way back when if I end up going to the league it will probably be at center, so keep working on snapping, and I did. “recalled Strange.
Strange’s time at center would help pave the way to a possible career in the NFL. The Knoxville native snapped the ball in the Reese’s Senior Bowl and his blocking abilities stood out to scouts. Strange said he has taken trips to Miami, Denver, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Seattle to visit with teams. He said he has also talked with 20 or so offensive line coaches, scouts, or team personnel.
Courtney said he has also been in contact with multiple teams who have inquired about Strange as a player and as a person.
“I heard one of the coaches say he always played to the echo of the whistle. And one of the pro-organizations said that’s one of the first things they noticed about him in Mobile, his attitude down there,” said Courtney.
“I know one thing, whoever makes that choice. They’re going to get a heck of a man, heck of a football player, and certainly the ultimate team player.”
If Strange gets the call over the next four days of the NFL Draft, he will be Coach Courtney’s first player to be drafted through his 40-plus years of coaching the Admirals.
“It would mean a lot and it would be a dream come true,” said Strange.
Surreal moments at the Senior Bowl and Combine
Strange was one of 324 prospects invited to participate in the NFL Combine and also received an invitation from Jim Nagy to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
“I didn’t think I was going to get invited to it and then I found out in like early January, I was like ‘this is awesome,” said Strange reflecting on his Senior Bowl invite.
In the combine, the offensive lineman recorded 31 reps on the bench press, a 28 vertical jump, and 120 broad jump. Strange also completed the 20-yard shuttle in 4.5 seconds and the 3-cone drill in 7.44 seconds. He also clocked a 5.03 in the 40-yard dash.
However, the Reese’s Senior Bowl proved to be the bigger test.
“When I went there (Mobile) I played center. I didn’t know that was going to happen,” said Strange.
The former Admiral exercised a sixth-year option at Chattanooga using his COVID eligibility and started nine games at left guard and two at left tackle during his super-senior year. But when he arrived in Mobile, Alabama, Strange was listed on the depth chart as a center.
“It wasn’t a super difficult transition for the senior bowl, honestly, I think I felt really comfortable,” recalled Strange. “I didn’t play anywhere else the entire week. It worked out for the best.”
Strange has visited with numerous teams and has had tons of calls with offensive line coaches or team personnel since. While the in-person visits give teams a chance to learn about Strange as a man, the Zoom calls are predominantly centered around football. Strange said coaches will run through pass-protections and run concepts; like identifying the MIKE linebacker and learning the names of calls across the line. He then will have to recite it back, all to test his knowledge and retention rate.
Farragut football head coach Eddie Courtney mentioned he has been contacted by 12 to 15 professional organizations inquiring about Strange as a player and as a person.
“They all say one thing they say we have to have something that…what’s his weakness? And I’m serious, and I said, ‘I’m going, to be honest with you, it’s hard to find any weakness about him,’ recalled Courtney. “I said, ‘if there is, it’s very minimal.'”
Hard Work Pays Off
Strange knew he belonged on the gridiron at a young age. His calm demeanor vanishes when he puts on the pads and helmet.
“He’s got a little mean, nasty streak in him he really does but that’s what you have to have,” recalled Courtney. “He knows how to play the game at that level.”
The longtime coach said Strange is one of the toughest guys he has ever coached and recalled having to take him out of certain drills in practice in high school.
“He knows how to treat everybody with respect, when he gets on the football field, it’s a different mentality,” said Courtney. “He was playing it the way you have to play it and other guys were maybe not to that extent of it, so we had to make sure we took care of the other guys.”
Aside from his aggressive attitude, Strange is constantly working to perfect his craft. From spending extra time in the weight room to studying film or giving 100% on every play, fighting through the whistle-Strange is constantly working.
“There’s not really a ton of secrets on how to get better at things, it just work, work, and more work,” said Strange. “Giving effort, not saving yourself, playing all the way through the whistle. When you want to be great at something, you just have to spend a lot of time doing it.”