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.
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.”