ORONO, Maine — Mike Cole is accustomed to doing everything with maximum effort, especially on the football field.
For that reason, most of the last 10 months have been torture for the University of Maine senior.
The hard-charging Cole’s patience has been tried extensively during his recovery and lengthy rehabilitation of a torn left quadriceps (thigh) tendon injury that ended his 2012 season prematurely.
“I want to get out there more than anything, but they’re still holding me back a little bit,” Cole said Friday during UMaine’s annual football media day, which was held in the Mahaney Dome because of the steady rain.
“I think I’m going to take my first live rep on Wednesday,” he added, saying he must first get the approval of his doctor.
There were plenty of smiles as Black Bear coaches and players talked about prospects for the 2013 season, which begins with an Aug. 31 game at Norfolk State. None was brighter than Cole’s.
“[He has] a great work ethic and great patience,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “Michael has been relentless in his pursuit of rehabbing and taking care of the injury.”
The defensive end’s run toward UMaine’s quarterback sacks record came to a screeching halt last Oct. 6 at Delaware. He was pursuing the Blue Hens quarterback when his left leg suddenly gave out.
“I was trying to turn the corner, trying to get another sack, and I was trying to bend to the quarterback,” Cole recalled. “I stepped and I felt three pops in my leg. It was kind of like I got shot.”
The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder from North Brunswick, N.J., crashed to the turf and could not get up. The tendon that attaches his thigh muscle to his kneecap had ripped.
“They had to go back in there and sew it back on and reattach it,” Cole added.
“It was devastating,” said end-turned-linebacker Trevor Bates of Westbrook. “We didn’t really know at the moment, because it didn’t look that serious, but once we realized, we were paralyzed a little bit.”
That was the start of a long recovery for Cole, who finished 2012 with 20 tackles in five games. That included a Colonial Athletic Association-best seven sacks. He immediately vowed to get back in time for this season.
“There’s nothing you can really do except go forward,” Cole said. “Having it taken away from me, it definitely makes me realize how much I really do love it.”
Cole went from being on crutches and in a brace to starting some weight-bearing activities. That included hanging his leg off a training table while wearing ankle weights and allowing gravity to initiate the stretching process.
He slowly worked his way back into football-related drills.
“He’s been doing so well that a lot of times we’ve had to slow him down,” said defensive line coach Jordan Stevens said. “That’s just his personality and how hard he works.”
At first, Cole was frustrated by his inability to do squats and weight training with his legs. Instead, he concentrated on other areas.
Cole said he is now the strongest he’s ever been in his arms, shoulders, chest and back.
Cosgrove, who credited UMaine’s strength and conditioning coaches and training staff for their contributions in aiding Cole’s comeback, said he was been willing to put in the necessary work to get back on the field.
“He really has got my greatest level of respect for what he’s gone through to get to this point here,” Cosgrove said. “I’m big-time excited for him to get him turned loose and back playing.”
Despite lingering doubts about the integrity of his surgically repaired tendon, Cole is confident that he’ll be ready to go in time to play the opener in three weeks.
He goes into the season with 21 sacks, 6½ shy of UMaine all-time leader Mike Denino.
“I’m extremely excited,” Cole said. “I feel better than I would have ever thought and I’m fairly certain I’m going to be all right. I’d like to prove it to myself being on the field and watching film on it.”