With an 8-1 record and its goal of a Mid-American Conference Championship within its collective reach, there’s a lot for Toledo’s football program to smile about these days. Among the biggest of those smiles is that of second-year graduate assistant and former Rocket Nate Cole.
“I think one of the things [is] Nate’s got that smile,” UT head coach Matt Campbell said of his big, 6-foot-2 grad assistant in Cole. “He kind of draws you in because he’s a unique young man that has the ability to relate to everybody. He’s very well-spoken.”
Four years ago when Campbell came to Toledo as part of a new Rockets’ coaching staff led by Tim Beckman, however, Cole didn’t have too much to smile about. Due to his inconsistency, in particular when it came to his lack of focus and seriousness toward his academics, Cole was on the verge of being off the team and out of college.
“I was a kidder,” Cole said. “I used to goof around and stuff. I really didn’t take school too much serious until I got a big scare when either I had to get pretty much like a 3.9 [GPA] or something one semester or I was gone.
“So, after that, I had a talk with my mom. [I got] a few choice words from her that gave me a little bit of motivation and also a kick in the butt that I needed.”
In addition to his mother, Campbell was also a central figure in getting Cole back on track.
“He challenged me my senior year—not even my senior year, [but] my junior year, also,” Cole said of Campbell. “[He said], like, ‘What’s important to you and are you going to do this? If you’re going to be in, then you’ve got to be full-in.’”
“I think, really, it was just showing him the path and proverbially leading the horse to water, and he really took advantage of that,” Campbell said. “He skyrocketed, and really a guy that I certainly couldn’t be prouder of where’s he’s at right now today in life.”
Cole went on to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Communication from Toledo in the spring of 2011. He played in 39 games for the Rockets at right guard during his career and started 32 of them, including every game in his final two years. And when Cole was thinking of possibly going back home to Dayton after graduating, Campbell called him into his office, told him he thought he’d be good at coaching and got him to stay.
“He’s the reason obviously why I’m even here,” Cole said. “I actually had a choice to go off and venture at other schools, bigger conferences and whatnot. At the end of the day, I’ll still stay here because of my relationship with him because it’s a little bit of a thing [that] I believe in loyalty and whatnot. He got me in this, and I’m still learning from him.”
Now, the Rockets’ players are learning from Cole. He’s in charge of the scout team defense—what Cole calls the “Hit Squad”—helps Toledo offensive line coach Tom Manning, stays a week ahead and breaks down UT’s upcoming opponent and also helps in recruiting, meeting with prospective Rockets and their parents when they visit.
“I think he gives a lot of credibility to us in the recruiting process because he’s somebody that has been in this program,” Campbell said.
That credibility has also lent itself to Toledo’s production on the field in 2012. Two of Cole’s former “Hit Squad” members in freshman cornerback Chris Dukes and sophomore cornerback Jordan Haden have seen action on UT’s first team defense, combining for 29 tackles, two interceptions and four passes defended.
“If you’re not giving [the first string offense] a good look, it’s going to affect this team,” Cole said on his mantra to the “Hit Squad.” “And that’s on you.”
Cole is on pace to get his Master’s Degree in Sports Administration this summer, adding that he’d like to coach five-to-10 more years and potentially take a stab at being an athletic director one day.
“He’s got the ability to be really special at it I think,” Campbell said of Cole’s coaching potential. “I think he does a great job in the recruiting aspect of it. I think parents respect who he is, where he’s come from and maybe the success that he’s had.
“And I certainly think that he’s got the ability to relate to young people, and I think that’s what coaching is: the ability to relate and teach young people how to be successful.”