Defensive Line, 1999-2002
Colin Cole was told he wasn’t good enough. That’s all he needed to hear.
When he retired from the NFL following the 2015 season, his professional career had spanned 15 years. Not a bad run for an undrafted free agent from the University of Iowa.
“I appreciate those people in the beginning that doubted me and put me in that position that made me seem like I wasn’t good enough. Without them, I don’t know if I would have had as successful of a career as I did,” he told HN.
These days, Cole resides in Charlotte with his wife, Dr. Kaye Cole, and their three children, daughter, Karys (9), and sons C.J. (Colin Jr., 6) and Cassius (4). He spends much his energy on a couple important endeavors and soaking up quality family time he missed as a professional athlete.
His company, The Cole Group, helps people organize special events from golf tournaments to football camps to galas. It caters to a broad range of clients, including professional athletes, non-profit organizations and businesses needing help raising brand awareness.
Cole came up with the idea watching fellow NFL players struggle pulling together events like football camps or fundraising activites. They’re wanting to give back to their communities but often lack the time with the obligations of being a professional athlete. Sometimes they just need help getting started in an unfamiliar area.
“They can focus their time on their respective sports and have great turnkey events that will raise money and awareness for their causes. Not everybody gets the opportunity to be a Peyton Manning or Michael Jordan. They can still utilize what platforms that they have to build their names in their communities or the communities they play in,” Cole said.
Kaye Cole partners with her husband in that venture and others involving philanthropy. Perhaps the most important union these days involves her candidacy for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society 2018 Woman of the Year. Colin runs his own page supporting Kaye, offering to cut off his long locks if he can reach a goal of $50,000 raised by the end of May.
It’s a 10-week competition supporting blood cancer research in communities across the country. At its conclusion, the organization names community and national men and women of the year.
The Coles bring their campaign to Iowa City on Saturday. They’ll hold a fundraiser at Graze restaurant on the downtown pedestrian mall from 6-8 p.m. Part of the campaign, whose goal is raising $150,000, falls under the charge that “Cancer Messed With the Wrong Hawkeye.”
Kaye and Colin met while attending Iowa in the early 2000s. Her brother, Richie Williams, played for the Hawkeyes at that time.
Colin was a member of Kirk Ferentz’s first recruiting class in 1999. He and South Plantation (FL) High teammate Fred Barr helped form the foundation for a man that’s become the longest tenured coach in college football. They won one game their first year and the Big Ten during their senior season.
Cole, a defensive lineman, chose Iowa ahead of scholarship offers from Florida, South Florida, Virginia Tech, Connecticut and others. It came down to the Hawkeyes and Hokies.
“Schools in Florida, even though they were close to home, I didn’t have a great feeling for those places,” he said.
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Assistant Bret Bielema was leading Iowa’s movement in South Florida. It would later bring in Heisman runner-up quarterback Brad Banks along with productive receivers in C.J. Jones and Mo Brown.
Bielema, Ferentz and defensive line coach Ron Aiken won over Cole. He liked the idea of building something from scratch.
The Hawkeyes won three games in ’00, and seven with an Alamo Bowl triumph the following year. The team added impactful players like Bob Sanders and Nate Kaeding. Eventual first-round NFL picks Robert Gallery and Dallas Clark switched positions and flourished.
In ’02, they shocked the college football world with an 11-1 regular season that included an 8-0 Big Ten mark. Despite losing to USC in the Orange Bowl, they ended up ranked eighth in the country, the same spot they would be at the conclusion of the next two campaigns, one of the most successful periods in program history.
Cole played a big role in the rebuild. He competed as a true freshman in ’99. As a team captain his senior year, he earned first-team all-Big Ten and second-team all-American honors. He finished with 213 career tackles.
“It started with the guys up front, both sides of the line of scrimmage. That’s what coach Ferentz’s background was in and that’s what propelled our team to be a strong,” Cole said.
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He remembers the mentality held by the Hawkeyes as they went from getting sand kicked in their faces to physically dominating opponents in the span of four years.
“We weren’t of the mindset of mediocrity and didn’t accept what our record was early on. We competed as best as we could against the upperclassmen the first couple of years trying to make ourselves viable contributors for the team,” he said.
“When the opportunities presented themselves, we took over the program with the help of coach (Chris) Doyle and coach Ferentz. He gave us the the game plan but it was up to us to take ownership of the program. It was on us to take it to another stratosphere, guys that just had a hunger to be better and play harder and win. We took over.”
Cole earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl and NFL Draft combine. He performed for scouts at Iowa’s Pro Day. He went undrafted and several player personnel people told him he didn’t belong in the league.
Minnesota signed him as a free agent. The Vikings cut him loose and he played the rest of his rookie season of ’03 in Detroit. He joined Green Bay the following year and ended up starting seven games there during the next five campaigns.
Seattle signed him in ’09 and he started 26 games during two years with the Seahawks. He moved on to Carolina, where he started 23 games before retiring after the ’15 season.
Cole left the sport with pride and satisfaction. He carved out an impressive professional career when many folks didn’t think he’d make it at all. He fought that throughout his run.
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“The odds were stacked against me by the organizations that I was a part of. They continuously brought in young men at my position to make their teams as good as possible. So I had to fight every year to make the teams to continue my career,” he said.
“Thankfully I was talented and gifted and blessed enough to each year get an opportunity to play and make the most of my opportunities and stretch my career as long as I could.”
He has no regret. He welcomes challenges and makes no excuses. Through hard work, anything is possible.
He’s thankful for the teachings of coaches like Ferentz, Aiken, Pete Carroll, Ron Rivera and Eric Washington. He cherishes his friendships with college teammates like Banks, Aaron Kampman and others.
“Having gone through the early adversities that I was able to endure, those things really molded me and my personality and lit a fire under me to work extremely hard to achieve the career. Being told that I just didn’t have it was a motivator. Beyond that, I had a dream to achieve. I was focused on those goals and worked extremely hard,” he said.
Cole still watches all the Iowa games even though life with a young family pulls him in many directions.
“We DVR them if we’re going to miss them We watch on cell phones sometimes. Technology makes it so I get to watch my Hawks play,” he said.
He served as honorary captain for an Iowa game in ’15. He burst with pride showing off the university and football program to his children.
Most guys he played with in the NFL can’t go back to their alma maters and see their coach still working there. It reenforces that he made the right choice all those years ago.
“It speaks to the university as a whole. It’s good to see that we stand strong on the beliefs and values of being able to stand behind someone who has been beneficial for a program. There’s been a lot of turnover in the college football world since he came into the position. That he has been able to hold the locker room and hold the team speaks extremely well for he and the university,” Cole said.