RICHLANDS, Va. – Tyler Cole is from the Jewell Ridge area of Tazewell County.
Richlands head coach Jeff Tarter likes those kids.
“I have got a strong liking for those Jewell Ridge boys because they are daggone tough,” Tarter said. “I can go all the way back to the Cody Thomas era. He is one of those guys, he has got his eyes on the next level and that is a good thing because that drives you, it really does make you go.”
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Cole went to work in the offseason, losing 15 pounds in order to handle starting on both the offensive and defensive lines.
“I was going to try it and see if my footwork gets better and my speed to be more explosive,” said Cole, who understands just how difficult that assignment can be. “You have just got to get through it. That is why we are working so hard to try and fight through it.”
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Cole has long had an affinity for the sport of his choice.
“I just love contact and I love the intensity,” he said. “I just love the game of football.”
That passion for football has carried over into this work ethic. Tarter watched over the summer as fellow lineman Kevin Dye pushed Cole even though he was dealing with recovery from a knee injury.
“Tyler is a horse. He was here at the same time I was every single morning in the summer,” Tarter said. “Kevin gets in there and he pushed Tyler for everything he is worth and Tyler has literally set goals for himself.
“He will play defensive tackle and he will play offensive tackle. He has cut 15 pounds of fat off and converted it to muscle. I was telling him if you are going both ways you have got to get that weight off.”
Tarter’s son, Bowen, who is currently a long snapper at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, also found a willing partner to work out with as they prepared for their upcoming seasons.
“Bowen worked his hind end to death. He put him through the UVa-Wise stuff,” Jeff Tarter said. “An offensive lineman comes in and says I am going out and run with specialist Bowen Tarter on the track or the football field and they go out there and pump out about 2 or 3 miles.
“They come back in here and they are all drenched wet, I have never had a lineman do that before, not voluntarily.”
It is that type of effort that Cole hopes will take him to his ultimate goal of playing college football.
“I just have to keep grinding and work on my foot work and speed, keep my muscle up and just have fun and don’t get hurt,” Cole said.
Cole is more than a workout warrior. He is also a leader for the Blue Tornado, and teammates Kalib Simmons and Dylan Brown appreciate his presence on the team.
“Tyler is one of the ones I trust,” said Simmons, a junior quarterback and defensive back for the Blue Tornado. “I trust he will do his job and I have just got to trust that he will trust me to do mine.”
Ditto for Dylan Brown, a senior running back and defensive back for Richlands.
“Tyler is a great leader, he has started since his freshman year,” Brown said. “He has also worked extremely hard this offseason and I feel great running behind him.”
That leadership will be tested this season, with Richlands in the unusual spot of starting freshmen Max Herndon and Collin Adkins on both sides of the ball.
Cole will be there to offer his support.
“I have just got to push them to their limits, make sure they do their job and I know they will, I trust them,” Cole said. “They have been putting the work in and I think we will be all right.”
Tarter knows Cole will be there for them just like he is for the entire team.
“The thing I like about him is when he goes they go because it is a competitive nature,” Tarter said. “You look in that locker room and they are in there hugging each other. They have made that into their home and he is responsible for a good deal for that and making it happen in here.”
Times have been tough in recent seasons for tradition-rich Richlands, which finished 4-6 last season, falling to Ridgeview in an opening round playoff game. The Blue Tornado, which last won a postseason game in 2018, has endured three losing records in the last five years, which followed 13 straight years with at least nine wins.
Cole knows what must be done to rectify those issues.
“We have just got to come together and keep the intensity up on defense and offense and don’t give up,” Cole said. “Keep our hopes up.”
Tarter, who is in his 39th year as a coach at Richlands, enters his second season as head coach for the Blue Tornado and is certainly popular with his players. He replaced Thad Wells, who lasted less than a season after replacing Greg Mance, who won more than 250 games in his career at the school.
“I love Coach Tarter,” Cole said. “He has put in the work, he is very organized at what he does. He is very known and he is a really good coach and he has a lot of experience.”
A native of Richlands, Cole certainly enjoys the fall Friday nights at Ernie Hicks Stadium when the Blue Tornado are the biggest show in town.
“It is like just crazy, it is amazing,” he said. “Our fans are amazing, it just brings us all together, it is a great community.”
Cole is proud to be part of the Richlands program, and would like to bring back those glory days, which included four state championship game appearances, including one state title in 2006.
What will success be for him?
“When we make it to the state title,” he said, with a smile.
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