KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tom Doucette’s phone would ring like clockwork and his wife, Margaret, would chuckle because she knew the answer to her own question.
“Was that Cole again?” she’d ask.
Doucette would smile, shrug, and say, “Yeah.”
Cole was Cole Strange, the star two-way lineman for Farragut High, a perennial Tennessee powerhouse, and the future Patriots first-round draft pick who was looking to get in a late-summer afternoon workout.
The Admirals’ summer sessions were held in the morning to beat the blistering heat. But that wasn’t nearly enough to quench Strange’s football thirst.
“We’d go 7-9 in the morning, Monday through Thursday. Cole would come back later in the afternoon,” recalled Doucette, Farragut’s defensive line coach, this past week. “He’d be calling me up, ‘Coach, can you let me in the weight room?’ And I wasn’t going to deny the kid that.”
Head coach Eddie Courtney was Strange’s fallback if he couldn’t get hold of Doucette.
“He’s one of the handful of kids I’ve ever had that I’d come to unlock the door that I know an hour and a half later, two hours later, he’s still in there working out,” confirmed Courtney.
While the sessions helped Cole, they had a trickledown effect that would benefit the entire program.
“Good thing about it was Coach would buy more weights because Cole got so much stronger,” said Doucette, a Hyde Park native, Xaverian alum, and huge Patriots fan. “You ask him for weights, he wouldn’t get them for me or the other coaches, but if Cole needed it, we’d get more weights just because he needed more weights, bigger dumbbells and stuff.”
The story encapsulates Strange’s high school days, when he always went full tilt, no matter the situation.
Strange’s engine was always running hot, and he approached every aspect of football — training, studying, practice, and games — the same way, with ferocity.
For example, Strange was so intense during practice that during his junior year, Courtney and Doucette would have to yank him out of drills, which only made him angrier.
“And I always tried to explain to him, ‘Cole, listen. They don’t play at the same level you do. This is a teammate. You’re going to hurt somebody. Not that you’re doing it wrong,’ “ said Courtney. “That’s just his mentality: You put the helmet on, it’s football.’’
Strange would pummel opponents on both sides of the ball from the first kickoff to the final whistle.
“He plays the game the way it should be played. He’s very physical. He gets his hands on you. He’s not going to help you up, but he will shake your hands when the game’s over,” said Courtney.
During Strange’s breakout junior year for the Admirals, Courtney and his staff began customizing game plans to get the most out of their star.
Against rival Heritage High, Courtney slid his then-6-foot-4-inch, 235-pound edge linebacker to middle linebacker and he responded with 18 tackles.
“He just had such a high football IQ,” said Courtney.
“And he always had a nose for the ball,” added Doucette, who beamed when noting that Strange texted, “I’m going to your team, Coach,” on draft night.
Strange kept getting better and emerged as one of the best defenders in the state, even earning the rare postseason double, invitations to Tennessee’s East-West All-Star Game and the Tennessee-Kentucky All-Star Game.
According to Courtney, there was a misconception that Strange wasn’t heavily recruited by colleges. The truth was that Strange ended any recruitment drama early when he committed to the Air Force Academy.
However, Strange had a change of heart, and decided he wanted to play a little closer to home, which is how he ended up at one of the first schools to recruit him: Tennessee-Chattanooga, just a two-hour drive down Interstate 75.
Sitting in his office not far from Finley Stadium, Rusty Wright smiled Tuesday as he recalled Strange reaching out to see if the school still had a spot for him.
“You’re doggone right we do,” the Mocs’ coach told him.
The FCS school, whose football alum include Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens and Hall of Fame father Hugh Beaumont of “Leave it to Beaver” fame, was a perfect fit. It was where Strange showed off an engine as strong as the famous Choo Choo that’s parked in town.
Though Wright acknowledged Strange could have played defense, the decision was made to plug him in on the offensive line, where his rare mix of size, strength, and athleticism could be utilized.
He sat out 2016 as a redshirt then started 29 games (28 at left guard) over the next three seasons. Wright recalled a story from 2019 that left an impression on him.
Already without their starting center, the Mocs lost their second-stringer midway through a late-season game against The Citadel.
“So, we had to call time out to bring Cole over there and let him snap because we didn’t have anybody left. I mean, that’s just what happens at our level sometimes,” Wright said. “And he’s like, ‘I’ll get it figured out.’ Well, he didn’t bat an eye, didn’t blink, just went in there and snapped it. We actually were down two scores and came back and won the game late in the fourth quarter. We would’ve never done that without him. And I’m like, ‘That dude’s got something to him where he’s going to be pretty good before it’s all said and done.’ “
Asked for a snapshot scouting report on Strange, Wright described the type of player Patriots fans will soon embrace.
“He is a finisher. He plays from snap to the echo of the whistle as good as any other lineman I’ve been around,” Wright said. “We got Corey Levin, that was here, got drafted by the Titans at one time. And Cole’s a lot like that mold. But Cole’s a little more aggressive, a little more physical when it comes to that. He’s trying to get to where he’s supposed to get to, but also finish blocks and beat you and put you in the ground.
“If he’s supposed to go climb to a ‘backer, he’s going to go climb to a ‘backer and try to put that guy in the umpire’s lap all the way back there to the back judge, when it’s all said and done.”
Wright said he spent a lot of time with Patriots scouts during the Mocs’ pro day and believes the franchise coveted Strange’s versatility.
“You’ve got a guy who played center, right guard, left guard, for sure,” said Wright. “So, I mean, it’s three people for one dude. And let’s just think about it now. I mean, that’s a valuable tool to have.”
Wright said Strange had plenty of FBS suitors during his final two seasons in Chattanooga, but he stayed loyal to his commitment to the school and declined to enter the transfer portal. That didn’t surprise his former high school coach.
“They would say, ‘Well, if you don’t play at a higher level, you’re not going to get a chance for your dream NFL.’ And Cole would say, ‘They’ll find me,’ “ said Courtney.
The Patriots did, and they hope he’s the find of the future.