ORONO, Maine — Mike Cole’s commitment to weight training has enabled him to build a physique befitting a Greek sculpture.
Like many of those ancient works of art, his body has been ravaged by time — though his damage has been incurred on the football field.
This season, the University of Maine defensive end is again combating injuries, as well as opposing offensive linemen, in his pursuit of the school sack record.
Cole will set a hard-charging tone for the Black Bears on Saturday when No. 10 UMaine plays Stony Brook in a 12:30 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association game at Alfond Stadium.
“I’ve just been very unlucky,” said Cole, a 6-foot-1½, 244-pound senior who has been a study in perseverance after injuries.
In five games this fall, Cole has made 13 tackles, including 7½ for a loss of yardage. Five of those were sacks.
“He’s just relentless,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “That’s what you need out of a pass rusher. He’s really got a talent and an energy for that.”
Despite missing nine of the Bears’ last 14 games with injuries, Cole needs only 1½ sacks to tie the UMaine record of 27½ held by Mike Denino (1986-89).
“It was a question of if I stayed healthy,” said Cole, who was halfway to the record after the 2011 season. “It would definitely be something cool to look back on for my time here.”
Another dynamic Cole will look back on is his struggle with injuries.
Last season at Delaware, he suffered a ruptured quadriceps muscle in his left leg, which cost him the last six games. He required surgery to repair the tear and reattach his patella tendon.
It was a crossroads, both physically and mentally. Cole posted a quote from Albert Einstein that embodied his resolve.
“Adversity introduces a man to himself,” it read.
Cole got healed up and went through rehabilitation. He was back on the field in August. During the time when he was unable to run or do weightlifting with his legs, he instead concentrated on strengthening his upper body.
“We thought he really transformed his body after the injury,” said defensive line coach Jordan Stevens.
When he returned to dragging down quarterbacks, his good health didn’t last long. Cole’s next setback came Sept. 7 against Massachusetts. H e suffered a torn pectoral (chest) muscle while making a sack.
He sat out the next two games and returned against Richmond on Sept. 28. In the second quarter, again while trying to tackle a quarterback, he tore the pec in a different spot.
Cole finished the game and played against Delaware, but was subsequently forced to sit out the William & Mary game.
“With two tears, it’s vulnerable to ripping all the way through,” said Cole, who more recently had a shoulder ailment.
“The injuries, it’s been frustrating for him, because he spent all that time rehabbing,” Stevens said. “I don’t question his toughness.”
Cole was an all-state offensive tackle and defensive end at North Brunswick (N.J.) High School. He arrived at UMaine at about 265 pounds.
In August he weighed 240 and had only 8 percent body fat.
“It was a lot of hard work,” said Cole, who developed into a feared pass rusher at UMaine.
Stevens said Cole possesses an extra gear in getting off the line of scrimmage, while Cosgrove pointed to his perseverance and techniques as key attributes.
“He’s explosive when he comes off the ball and he has a good feel for rushing the passer,” Stevens said.
“He’s strong in the hands to tear off blocks, thing that are critical for a pass rusher, to be able to escape, to avoid, to get off blocks,” Cosgrove added.
Cole gained an appreciation for weight training under high school coach Mark Zielinski. Cole attributes his commitment to football and his hard-charging style to the example set by his hardworking father, Bill, with whom he hopes to work in his warehousing business.
“I’ve always been an ultracompetitive person in everything I’ve done,” he said.
Cole, who is finishing up a psychology degree, has caught the attention of NFL scouts and hopes to pursue a pro career. Eventually, he also would like to coach football.