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December 11, 2012

Christmas means a little more this season for Cole

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tis the season to put up Christmas trees, hang stockings, put up Christmas decorations and lights, and buy and wrap gifts. It’s also a time to reflect on the holiday and its meaning, and also to count one’s blessings.

Michael Cole has done a lot of reflecting the past month or so. He’s also counted his blessings – several times.

Tech fans last saw Cole lying still on the sod at Lane Stadium in the third quarter of the Hokies’ game against Florida State on Nov. 8. The redshirt freshman appeared to make an innocent-looking tackle of FSU’s Lonnie Pryor on a run early in the third quarter.

Rather than hopping up after the tackle, as he normally does, he felt a sharp pain in his neck and his arms went numb. He lost feeling in his limbs.

Fear instantly gripped his heart. Tech’s sports medicine staff sprinted onto the field, telling him to remain still. They asked him questions, and finally, they asked for the ambulance to come onto the field. They placed him on a spine board and then on a stretcher.

Could the nightmare he had seen several times on television be happening to him?

“It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced,” Cole said. “You see it on TV, when guys get carted off the field, and you think, ‘Gosh, that sucks.’ But you never expect it to be you being the one carted off. That was pretty scary.”

Cole’s mother, Mary, rode in the ambulance with him to LewisGale Hospital Montgomery, while his father, Jim, brought their car. The ride was undoubtedly the longest 10 minutes of the Coles’ lives.

Fortunately, Cole turned out to be okay, as a CT scan revealed no broken bones. He was diagnosed with a neck sprain, and the feeling in his limbs gradually returned. He later went with his parents to their home in Roanoke.

“I’m doing pretty good,” Cole said in a recent phone conversation. “My neck’s still a little stiff. I’m doing my therapy and getting back into lifting. I’m just taking things day by day. I go to the doctor here in a few weeks. I’m just waiting things out.”

Cole obviously missed the Hokies’ final two games of the season – their victories over Boston College and Virginia. Part of him wants to play again, continuing a development that had led to 43 tackles and a couple of interceptions in his first season (he redshirted last year).

Yet part of him remains apprehensive about returning to the field, a natural feeling given what transpired and his past history with neck issues. He’s suffered stingers before, including in August of last year that led to him being redshirted.

“I definitely missed it,” he said of playing. “I watched the BC game at home and then I went to the UVa game, and that was a weird feeling. At the same time, I’m happy that it (the injury) wasn’t worse than it was. I’m able to live a normal life. It could have been so much worse, so I can’t be mad about the situation.”

Cole did go back and watch the play that led to his injury. In fact, a few days later, he marched into the defensive backs meeting room and watched the coaches’ video of the game, with angles from both an end zone perspective and from the side.

He came away a bit surprised, and maybe a bit perplexed. The tackle looked like a routine one, one he’d made many times before.

“I was just curious,” he explained as his reasoning for watching the video. “I wanted to see if there was anything I did wrong. It (the tackle) didn’t seem any different than a routine tackle. I didn’t duck my head or anything like that. I couldn’t tell why it (the injury) happened. It’s just one of those things that you can’t control.”

Cole didn’t watch the television version of the game. He didn’t watch the part where the sports medicine people worked on him, or the part where the ambulance came onto the field.

“I don’t know if I will,” he said.

He doesn’t know if he’ll play in the bowl game – it looks unlikely as of this writing. He knows he probably faces a decision on his football future, whether to continue or to hang up the cleats and not risk further injury.

“I don’t have any answers,” he said. “I’m just taking it day by day, doing my therapy and trying to get better.”

And counting his blessings, particularly this Christmas. As he said earlier, things could have been much worse.