Young Michigan tackle Mason Cole playing older

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — No one notices Mason Cole.

And that’s a good thing.

At least that’s what Michigan coach Brady Hoke says, and he means it in the best way.

The 18-year-old Floridian, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice, is playing, from all accounts, like someone who has been around the program for a few seasons.

Hoke has said Cole goes unnoticed because his technique is sound and he does not commit penalties.

“He’s been able to handle everything we’ve thrown at him,” Hoke said. “Mason is one of those guys who is very goal-oriented and a guy who’s got a toughness to him.”

Cole is expected to start at left tackle Saturday when Michigan opens against Appalachian State. He would become the first freshman offensive lineman to start a season for the Wolverines.

Still, Cole’s teammates said they have to remind themselves he’s just a freshman.

“He’s a really technically sound player, especially for a freshman,” junior center Jack Miller said. “It’s kind of exceptional how good he is with his technique. He stays poised. He has the ability to be consistent play in and play out. He just goes out there and knows his job. Smart kid and gets it done.”

Junior running back Justice Hayes responded quickly when asked if the 6-foot-5, 292-pound Cole seems like a freshman.

“Oh, no,” Hayes said firmly. “Mason is a phenomenal player. He is a freshman, but he doesn’t play like it at all. He plays like he’s been there for a couple of years. When I see him to the left of me when I’m in the backfield, you can tell he knows what he’s doing, and he makes calls that you wouldn’t think he’d make. He’s a very impressive player.”

Cole was ahead of the game even in high school, starting for East Lake as a freshman.

“I know he’s really good,” East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. “I figured he’d excel eventually. It was the same thing here. He started as a freshman here for me. I’ve been coaching 20 years, and I’ve had true freshmen start but not at lineman. For us at the end, he was so dominating, and I think you’re going to see that out of him later as he gets stronger. Right now, it’s about the number of reps, He’s an 18-year-old kid, and he needs to get stronger.”

Cole has a soft side, too.

Hudson said Cole was growing his hair long with the intention of donating it to Locks of Love, a nonprofit that provides hairpieces for children with long-term medical issues. For two years, Cole grew his hair and planned to cut it before the state playoffs last year. Because the team had gone unbeaten and reached the state semifinals for the first time, Hudson encouraged him to hang onto the hair a bit longer.

After the team lost in overtime, Cole had his hair cut and mailed in his donation.

“That tells you what kind of kid he is,” Hudson said. “How many 17-year-old boys who would grow it for that? At first he just started to grow it, then he decided to have it for a purpose.

“He’s a neat kid. I can’t say enough about him.”

Hudson talks frequently to Cole, and continues to give him advice. He does caution that although everyone seems to believe Cole is older than he is, he is, after all, just a freshman.

“I’ve talked to him a lot and tell him, ‘Remember, stay true to yourself. Keep your head on straight,’ ” Hudson said. “The kid is going to make mistakes. He’s going to give up sacks and miss blocks. But he’s 18 years old. — he should be getting to Michigan now.”

Youth is served

Mason Cole is expected to start at left tackle Saturday, the first time a freshman lineman has started the season for Michigan. Five true freshmen have started along the offensive line for the Wolverines:

* Bubba Paris (1978): Two starts

* Tom Dixon (1980): One start

* Dean Dingman (1987): Three starts

* Justin Boren (2006): One start

* Kyle Bosch (2013): Three starts

Appalachian State at Michigan

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: ESPN2/WWJ

Records: Season opener

Line: Michigan by 34½

Series: Appalachian State leads 1-0 (Appalachian State 34-32, Sept. 1, 2007)

Did you know? This is Appalachian State’s first game as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision after moving up from the Football Championship Subdivision.