You never know what makes the difference in recruiting elite high school football players. Even free throw shooting ability can be a factor.
An explanation is in order.
One of the most highly-touted players in UC's freshman class is wide receiver Nate Cole from Memphis, TN who chose Cincinnati over Alabama, Ole Miss, Stanford, Tennessee, West Virginia and others.
"I felt the family vibe when I came here," Cole told me. "I saw a game at Nippert Stadium and it felt like home."
After playing for his father Nathan, Sr. at Mitchell High School, it was important for Cole to sense a close connection to his college head coach.
That's where free throw shooting comes in.
"His pride is probably going to be wounded here," said UC head coach Butch Jones with a grin. "We were in the gym (on a recruiting visit) and he was having a great senior year in basketball. He was feeling really good about himself, so we made a friendly wager over who could win a free throw shooting contest. We squared off in front of his gym class and Coach Jones came out victorious."
"He beat me fair and square in front of the whole gym," said Cole, "My dad, all of the basketball coaches, and some students. He challenged me to a best-of-ten and beat me by one."
In case you're wondering, the stakes of the friendly wager were not a commitment to Cincinnati. The free throw contest was strictly for laughs, but it did reinforce Cole's belief that Butch Jones was the right college coach for him.
"It showed me that he relates to us and we can relate to him," said Cole. "I knew that if I needed to come to him about anything, he would be there. If you can't relate to the head coach and if he can't relate to you, you're not in the right place. It's not going to feel like home, you're not going to like it, and you're not going to play up to your potential. You have to have that kind of relationship with your coaches to play up to your highest potential."
"It was a great environment, it was all in fun, and
I can't say enough about his character," said Coach Jones. "He's a coaches' son and has a tremendous
family. We're very fortunate to have him
in our program and he's doing exceptionally well right now."
At Tuesday morning's practice at Camp Higher Ground, Cole was working with the second unit on offense and Nate appears to be a solid bet to play as a true freshman.
"I think his chances are very good," said Jones. "Right now it's still relatively early, but I see a lot of Alex Chisum qualities in him in terms of maturity and learning the playbook. He's kind of a quiet-natured young man, but he's extremely competitive inside. He's very driven and I could see him playing for us."
"I have to get into the playbook and learn the plays," said Cole. "It's really complicated. There are different routes, different concepts, and different names for routes.
"My goal is to pick things up fast, and if they do throw me into the game to do my job. My job is not to win games; it's to help to win games."
And part of Butch Jones' job is to convince talented high school football players with numerous scholarship offers to choose Cincinnati.
"With where our program is now, we're able to go compete against the traditionally-rich football programs around the country," said Coach Jones. "I think that speaks volumes for what we have to sell in our football program, our city, and the job that our coaches are doing."
Not to mention his free-throw shooting ability.
"Hey whatever it takes right?" said Jones.
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