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The injured Hokies safety is still coming to grips with the decision, even though he knew it was coming.
The Roanoke Times | File
Former Cave Spring star Michael Cole was forced to quit football after a neck injury.
Friday, February 15, 2013
BLACKSBURG — Michael Cole’s decision to give up football was a tough one, but it was in the making for a few months.
The Virginia Tech safety didn’t play the final three games in 2012 after suffering a scary neck injury against Florida State that briefly left him lying motionless on the field.
He opted for a less intrusive surgery shortly after New Year’s Day, one that relieved some nerve discomfort, instead of undergoing a rare procedure that involved fusing vertebrae. The latter only would have given him a small chance to return to football.
He knew for a while that his football career was over, but he’s still coming to grips with it.
“I already miss it now, and we’re not even in season,” said Cole, who formally announced his retirement Thursday. “I feel like when we start rolling around, putting the pads on in the spring or the fall, I think that’ll probably be a tough time for me. But it’s just something I have to deal with.”
The 19-year-old Cole can’t remember a time when he wasn’t playing football. He starred at Cave Spring High School and earned a scholarship at Virginia Tech.
After redshirting a year — one in which he had issues with neck stingers — he began to come around in 2012, thrust into early playing time because of depth issues in the secondary. A mainstay in Tech’s nickel package, his game had improved steadily when the injury happened.
“For me to go down like that, so sudden, it kind of hurt me mentally,” said Cole, who had 43 tackles and two interceptions. “Because I felt like I was improving and getting better.”
Cole still doesn’t quite know what happened on the play. He’s watched replays and said it was a “routine play, a routine tackle” when he lowered his shoulder and came into contact with FSU running back Lonnie Pryor .
The aftermath was anything but routine. He had to be strapped to a spineboard on the field and taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a cervical neck sprain.
His playing days might be done, but Cole, who remains on scholarship as a medical disqualification, is not finished being around football. He hopes to help out the Hokies trainers or medical team this season. It fits his interests. He’s a biological sciences major on a pre-med track.
Still, it’ll be an adjustment once all of his teammates are back on the field for spring practice.
“It’s definitely going to be different. It’s going to be hard,” Cole said. “But it has to end eventually for everybody. Unfortunately, a little premature for me. But I think I’ll be OK.”
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