ORONO – When Michael Cole told the University of Maine football staff that he wanted to come to Orono, the coaches shook hands, smiled, and looked over their shoulders.

“Michael was a guy we were so excited to get up here, to say he was coming to Maine,” Black Bears head coach Jack Cosgrove said. “Then we worried about others chasing him after his commitment.”

Cosgrove was concerned that bigger programs like Connecticut or Rutgers, which had shown interest in Cole, might figure out that he really was a prized recruit and trump Maine’s offer.

But Cole made it to Orono, which is about a nine-hour drive from his hometown of North Brunswick in northern New Jersey.

Now a redshirt sophomore, Cole has become a force on the defensive line, recording 10 sacks among his 44 tackles. He could be a key player Saturday when the Black Bears play an NCAA second-round playoff game against Appalachian State in Boone, N.C.

The Mountaineers’ offense is dynamic, averaging 30 points per game, but their line has allowed 24 sacks.

That is where Cole could be a leader for the Black Bears’ defense.

“Naturally gifted kid who works hard,” said defensive line coach Dennis Dottin-Carter, himself a former stellar Maine lineman.

Cole has always been considered gifted. A 6-foot-2, 265-pound lineman for North Brunswick Township High School, he was among the top 100 recruits in New Jersey. Colleges began contacting Cole when he was a sophomore.

North Brunswick has produced its share of recruits, including Maine senior running back Pushaun Brown. But Cole remembers another recruited player from his school.

“We had a kid and he was getting letters from all the big schools. He got a huge head about it,” Cole said. “I told myself that I wasn’t going to be like this kid. I’m just going to do what I do.”

Rutgers showed interest, but not with a full scholarship. Connecticut looked at Cole, and then offered a scholarship to a taller defensive end.

Towson, Northeastern and Stony Brook all wanted Cole. But he only made one recruiting visit, to Orono, and committed to the Black Bears.

“Maine had just made the playoffs (in 2008), so I figured they were going to be good,” Cole said. “Pushaun said he liked it here. The big thing was the team; everyone on the team is real close.”

In college, Cole has shed some weight and is a quick 245 pounds. Dottin-Carter said Cole is still strong enough to hold his ground.

Cosgrove said Cole’s heart is still the same size — huge.

“He plays the game with a great passion,” Cosgrove said. “(He’s one) of those guys you enjoy watching play.”

Not only does Cole sack quarterbacks, he blocks kicks — a field goal and two extra points this season. Both conversion blocks were returned for two points for the Black Bears.

“I just shimmy my way through,” Cole said

Cole will try to get through Saturday, and help keep Maine’s season alive.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

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