Quiet off the field, TJ Cole is a beast with the ball in his hands

TJ Cole dives into the end zone just before halftime of the state championship game.

Make no mistake, a football game is a fight, and a state championship game against a two-time defending champ and winner of 40 straight is certain to be a slugfest.

TJ Cole

Though Pleasant Grove coach Josh Gibson often told anyone who would listen that his fullback, TJ Cole, could be a great slot receiver, that was one of the few positions he had not played for the Hawks, so one can excuse the West Orange-Stark coaching staff and secondary for a lack of awareness when Cole lined up there on the first play from scrimmage.

Ten seconds later, they knew.

Quarterback Ben Harmon took the snap, stepped back three steps and fired an eye-level line driveat Cole, who was running free down the middle, five yards behind the safeties. The senior sprinted alone and untouched into the end zone to give the Hawks a 7-0 lead.

Boom. Right to the chops.

“My main thought at that point was, ‘don’t get caught,’” said Cole, who wound up scoring three times and earning offensive MVP honors.

He scored twice more in the first half. He and Harmon teamed up for the exact same play, this time from 34 yards out to put Pleasant Grove up, 14-6 at the end of the first quarter. Just before the half, Cole went around the right side from nine yards out and dove over the defender into the end zone to make it 21-6.

He finished with 107 receiving yards and was the game’s leading rusher for 89 yards on 22 carries.

That’s impressive, but was just another day at the office for Cole, the leading rusher in Pleasant Grove’s share-the-load, run-first offense, which amassed 4,783 yards in the season. Cole was the leader of that pack, gaining 1,751 of those yards and 25 of the school’s 65 rushing touchdowns.

His on-field explosiveness stands in sharp contrast to the quiet, soft-spoken, thoughtful young man one meets off the field.

The son of Regina and Tony Cole, TJ Tuesday signed to play with Ouachita Baptist.

Coach Josh Gibson said Cole’s athleticism, work ethic and speed will help him excel at the next level.

“TJ Cole is a dude!  He made the move from quarterback to running back and it has paid off,” Gibson said. “TJ is so athletic, he could play three different positions in college. His hands are phenomenal, he runs with great power and his vision is unreal.”

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A veteran journalist and educator, Bill Owney is a 1980 graduate of the University of Florida. Writing awards include APME honors for investigative reporting, the Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Award for public service reporting and numerous awards for editorial, column and news writing. He served as publisher of the Atlanta Citizens Journal and Pittsburg Gazette when each paper won sweepstakes awards from the Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Associations. He spent 15 years as a public school teacher and is an adjunct professor of English at Texarkana College.