Saginaw — Don Maloney knew he had a special player in Brian Cole when he watched him break loose for a long run for a touchdown on his first play from scrimmage after calling him up from the freshman team during the 2011 season.
Maloney, Saginaw Heritage’s head coach, has enjoyed watching Cole develop into the state’s top player during the past few seasons. Now, he plans on using his star athlete in a number of positions to get the most out of him.
After all, Cole was called up midway through that freshman year as a backup quarterback and starting defensive back, then moved over to wide receiver his sophomore year and running back last season, where he rushed for 1,213 yards (138 carries, 16 TDs) before suffering an ankle injury during the last game of the season.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke recruited Cole as an athlete. Cole made Hoke a happy man when he told him earlier this summer he was coming to Ann Arbor to play college football.
Cole could well end up playing receiver for the Wolverines and reminding fans of Braylon Edwards because of his size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), speed (sub-4.4 40), great hands and the ability to leap and come down with the ball.
Now, back to his first play of varsity football.
“When Brian was a freshman, we moved him up halfway through the season to start at safety and be our backup quarterback,” Maloney said. “We were playing Saginaw High and we had really already won the game so we brought him in as the backup quarterback and the first time he touched the ball he went 67 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s just so explosive. We could see from his freshman year that he was going to be exciting to coach the next three years. Brian has brought a lot of enthusiasm and excitement to the program; obviously he’s brought a lot of exciting plays and put Heritage football back on the map.”
So, how many times does Maloney try to give the ball to Cole — ranked the state’s top player by ESPN and No. 2 by rivals.com ?
“Last year, we had to get the ball to Brian 25 to 35 times a game and we were pretty close to that,” Maloney said. “We have to be creative and move Brian around because there are some very good coaches in our league that do a great job with defensive schemes and if we leave him in one spot, they’ll shut him down.
“We have to be smart, be creative and get him the ball in the middle, get him the ball on the edge and let him do some creating on his own. He’ll be playing some receiver and he’ll be getting the ball in the backfield, as well. He’s so explosive speed-wise that he can make a mistake and make up for it and still make it look like it was supposed to go that way.”
Cole suffered a serious injury in the opening minutes of the last year’s season finale, getting run over by powerful Mount Pleasant running back Michael Tweh while playing safety, preventing Heritage from earning a playoff spot. He ‘s determined to get his team to the playoffs his final year.
In addition to his rushing for 1,200-plus yards, Cole was in on 45 tackles and intercepted five passes.
“For the team, it’s all about hard work and just coming together and getting the chemistry down,” said Cole, who said he feels “great” seven months after having a plate and six screws inserted during surgery to repair his left ankle. “I feel we’ll surprise some teams this year. We were 5-4 last year so it was real close to getting in the playoffs.”
Cole says he doesn’t know his stats or his number of touches per game, just saying, “I’ll do whatever Coach wants me to do. It’s just go wherever Coach feels the need for me to be. ... I just love playing football.”
Cole said he started getting offers his sophomore year, and ended up with nine or 10 in all, including Michigan State, Ohio State and Tennessee.
“Michigan came in and offered me, it was my first offer right after my sophomore year when Coach Freddy Jackson offered me,” he said. “I love him. He keeps it real with you. He keeps things up front with you, keeps things honest.
“I didn’t know a lot about Michigan. I barely watched football. I just like to play it.”
So, why Michigan?
“Basically because of academics, family and it just felt like home,” Cole said.
“I told Coach Hoke the day before the barbeque (at Michigan) that I wanted to commit and he just grabbed me, jumped up, swung me around and started screaming. It was quite a moment.”