ORONO, Maine — Football can be a cruel game.
If you don’t believe that, just ask Michael Cole.
The University of Maine’s hard-charging defensive end turned in perhaps his finest performance in Saturday’s 26-3 Colonial Athletic Association victory at 15th-ranked Delaware.
The junior from North Brunswick, N.J., was in on nine tackles — a big number for an end — and sacked Blue Hens quarterback Trent Hurley five times as the Black Bears defense held Delaware to the fewest points in the history of the series.
For his efforts, Cole was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Week and The Sports Network National Co-Defensive Player of the Week.
Cole, who also forced a fumble, never truly got to enjoy the individual performance or the outcome of the game.
That’s because in the fourth quarter, he had to be carried off the field by strength and conditioning coach Dan Nichol and head athletic trainer Ryan Taylor.
Cole, the reigning Football Championship Subdivision leader in sacks with seven, is out for the remainder of the 2012 season.
The relentless 6-foot-2, 240-pounder won’t be chasing down quarterbacks any time soon after rupturing the quadriceps tendon in his left leg. He underwent surgery Wednesday by Dr. D. Thompson McGuire of Down East Orthopedics in Bangor.
It was obvious something significant happened to Cole as he bore down on Hurley during a pass play. When it ended, Hurley realized Cole was hurt and was animated as he waved UMaine trainers to come onto the field to tend to Cole.
Saturday’s TV coverage appeared to show UMaine trainers and doctors looking at Cole’s knee. Instead, it was the tendon that attaches the quadriceps muscle to the knee.
Cole confirmed that he is out for the rest of the season.
He is likely still working through the disappointment of having his season ended prematurely. Even so, a quote posted on his Twitter account indicates how he plans to approach the setback.
“‘Adversity introduces a man to himself.’ Let’s find out who I really am then.”
The man whose wisdom is quoted here probably never played football. But Albert Einstein understood more than most about how the world works, both in terms of its physics and its unseen psychological dynamics.
Cole’s role with the Black Bears has been altered dramatically.
Rather than exerting his influence with his play, he will be trying to provide support and guidance for his fellow defensive linemen.
UMaine is blessed to have some depth at defensive end, where senior Doug Alston has a lot of experience and junior backup Erwin Roach has played quite a bit.
Redshirt freshmen Mike Kozlakowski, and Trevor Bates of Westbrook, will have to fast-forward their progress in an attempt to fill the sizeable void left by Cole’s injury.
For some of those young men, Michael Cole’s misfortune is their opportunity to step up and make a more significant contribution on the field.
Football is a cruel game.
It exacts a tremendous physical toll on its participants, whose size, strength, agility and toughness suddenly don’t mean much when a fragile body part — a bone, a ligament, a muscle, the brain — are suddenly broken, torn or battered so hard that something gives out.
While many athletes train and prepare diligently all year long for the season, football players have among the fewest chances to demonstrate their skills. The 2012 regular season is a mere 11 games — one per week.
And it’s only 11 games if one is fortunate enough to avoid getting seriously hurt from the high-speed collisions and awkward twisting of limbs among young men, many of whom weigh more than 300 pounds.
Like his UMaine teammates, Cole understood the risks associated with the game. In fact, he had been dealing with other injury issues early this season that appear to have limited his effectiveness somewhat.
As he recuperates, Cole will have plenty of time to think about not only what he will be missing as he watches from the sideline, but to those glorious moments he will once again enjoy grappling with a 300-plus-pound offensive tackle as he tries to get to the quarterback.
It will be a long wait, but the thought of getting back on the field to play the game he loves will motivate Cole to return to the often unforgiving arena of college football.