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Whatever it takes

Cole Blake is a running back who has overcome more than most. His grit, determination and ambition have driven him to never give up on his dreams

September 7, 2017

“They (the doctors) were talking to my mom and they said ‘he has serious trauma to his finger. We’re looking at a shattered finger possible amputation,” said Robert Morris running back Cole Blake.

“And instantly my heart rate went up to like 160,” said Blake.

The red shirt junior running back is describing the dirt bike accident that occurred when he was 13 which cost Blake the top half of his right index finger.

What at first seemed like a quick fix to his dirt bike turned into a life changing event for Cole Blake, and an occurrence that would follow him through his whole life.

An incident like Cole’s is almost impossible to imagine happening to anyone. And at age 13, it seems almost devastating for a kid who may not even understand the full extent of his circumstances.

But at around eight years after the fateful day, nothing has slowed Cole Blake down from following his passions and pursuing his dreams.

In high school, Cole Blake did two things exceptionally well. He played the violin, at which he was very talented, and he played football, where he was the star of Moon Area High School.

After the accident, those two things became a challenge for Cole Blake. It seemed as though he would never be able to play the violin with the same sweet sound or run the football with such overwhelming power and skill.

But Cole Blake was not ready to give up his dreams and his passions.

Rather than simply give up, Blake went back to work, re-teaching himself both how to play the violin and how to be a running back for the Moon Tigers.

And he was not only able to do both once again, but he excelled at each, blowing away the competition.

Cole Blake has always had to battle for his right to play the game of football.

In 2013, Cole Blake ran for 1798 yards, including 343 in one game, and 22 touchdowns. All three of those stats set school records at Moon.

The future RMU running back averaged 8.21 yards per carry and was named to both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 Team and the Beaver County Times Top 22 Team.

But despite all of his successes in high school, Cole Blake just couldn’t seem to avoid the obstacles in his path.

Blake came to the Robert Morris football team as a walk-on, no scholarship money and no promises of even getting a chance to carry the football.

The dream could have been over before it even began. All the battling to come back was for naught. The expectations were low and it undoubtedly appeared that whether he succeeded or failed made no difference to the team.

But Blake decided to do the same thing that he has done his entire life and continue to fight for his passions. Not letting anyone but himself dictate what he can and cannot do.

The kid from Moon quickly washed away any doubt in head coach John Banaszak’s mind about his ability to be a Division I college football athlete and a constant part of the Robert Morris offense.

By the second week of the season, Cole Blake was making his collegiate debut versus North Dakota. He had made it. Once again, he had beaten the odds.

Only about 10 percent of college football walk-ons even see the field. Cole Blake has already done that. Even fewer of those get the opportunity to become a starter. And on September 26, 2015, Cole Blake shattered those thin odds and became the starting running back against South Dakota State, the sixth ranked team in the nation.

Cole Blake’s stellar 2015 season solidified his role as a clear starter for the 2016 season.

Blake ran for 136 yards against Notre Dame (Ohio), 117 yards against Duquesne, recorded his first career rushing touchdown against East Tennessee State November 7th and ran for 119 yards in the road finale at Saint Francis.

He finished the year with 722 yards and two touchdowns. Cole Blake had arrived on the scene at Robert Morris University and it appeared he wasn’t going away anytime soon.

That was until once again, hardship decided to strike Cole Blake yet another time, in the spring of 2016.

Adversity is not an unfamiliar foe to Cole Blake. It is something that has followed him throughout his entire life.

It has shaped the character, the grit, the intensity, and the will to be the best he can be that has led Cole Blake to where he is today.

During the RMU football spring practice of 2016, Cole Blake faced adversity once again.

In the midst of a full team drill, Cole Blake took a blow to the knee from a member of the defense. It was a hit that looked as devastating as it actually was. Blake went down writhing in pain, fully aware of the possible ramification of this injury. He was carted off the field by the medical staff, unable to leave under his own power.

“I feel like it’s every running back’s nightmare to have your knee blown out,” said Blake.

Blake suffered a severe knee injury that would keep him out at least a full year. It was an injury that has ended and altered careers in the past at Robert Morris University.

Just as Cole Blake had reached the cusp of where he wanted to be, about to enter the prime of his football career, he was pushed off the mountain all the way to the bottom. He would have to begin to make the long climb up if he ever wanted to play again.

“There are times when you are going through therapy and you can’t get something and you keep trying and keep trying and keep trying and it keeps hurting. And you’re just like, am I ever going to be able to get it back?” said Blake.

Rehab was just the beginning, not only would he have to get cleared to even play again, he would have to prove he was still able to be a starter and for the second time in his short RMU career, earn the right to be on the field.

The 2016 season was a long and tenuous season for the Robert Morris Colonials. The team saw five different quarterbacks see action, players like former NEC Rookie of the Year and current University of Connecticut wide receiver Kyle Buss and running back Rameses Owens be absent from the field.

2016 was a year which saw the Colonials finish 2-9 in an injury plagued season Photo credit: Michael Evans

It was an injury-plagued season with an offense that had no answer for their struggles as the team only amounted eight touchdowns in 11 games.

Blake was forced to watch this from the sideline, unable to do anything to help his team in a clear time of need.

“I felt like I still had to maintain leadership,” said Blake.

He continued to be a leader off and on the field. At every game, every practice, encouraging, ensuring that every member of this Robert Morris squad gave their full effort every single snap of every single practice and game.

“I felt like it was very important to me that even though I wasn’t participating in on-field activities, I still had to show up to all the meetings,” said Blake.

And while he led, he continued to work on himself, getting better every day. Slowly getting back to playing shape. Nothing was going to stop Cole Blake from making it back on to the field.

But that is what makes Cole Blake special. He was not given special athletic gifts or size. The 5-foot-11-inch running back was simply born with a big heart, and a drive for greatness. Whether it is on the field or simply around campus. Cole Blake is the type of person that makes those around him better. Whether that is through his motivational words or simply just his kindness.

“Cole for us was still that leader,” said RMU offensive coordinator Mike Miller.

“He was still a guy who was that positive voice for the offense…he was also that guy in the weight room. Anybody that knows Cole knows that he is very passionate about the game and he’s passionate about his preparation,” said Miller.

Blake practices with the team as they prepared for week 1 against Dayton. It would be his first time on the field in almost two years

“He was still very vocal, he was still at all the practices, always at games, always trying to encourage us. For someone not even given the opportunity to play this past year, he was still someone you could tell he was a leader,” said tight end Reggie Green.

And finally, after almost a year of rehab, during the spring practice of 2017, Cole Blake was able to make it back onto the field once more.

“It felt good to put the pads on, even though I have to wear the red (no contact) jersey,” said Blake.

He had finally made it back. Blake had made it. To the spot that many never make it back to. The journey was long, emotional, painful and at times it seemed as though it may not even be possible.

And even though spring ball was a special moment, it wasn’t the moment he was looking for. He was yearning for the pure adrenaline rush, the real thing, that moment when he makes it on to the field in a real game, where every play means something.

“Even though I was cleared, I wasn’t back. It’s something that I have had to explain to a lot of people,” said Blake.

Cole himself is an example of the words he shares with others and of the character he has developed through having to work for everything that he has earned in his life.

“He was still a guy who was that positive voice for the offense…he was also that guy in the weight room. Anybody that knows Cole knows that he is very passionate about the game and he’s passionate about his preparation,””

— Offensive coordinator Mike Miller

Nothing has ever come easy, the road has never been short. It has been a long, hard-fought battle that has been met with every possible obstacle getting in his way.

And on September 2nd, 2017, Cole Blake overcame the latest roadblock in his path by playing in Robert Morris’ opening game against the Dayton Flyers.

On RMU’s first offensive play of the 2017 season, starting quarterback Jimmy Walker handed the ball off to Blake, his first action in a game in almost two years. Blake took the football and carried it 10 yards for a first down. Not only was it a quality run, but to the fans, it was Cole Blake’s welcome back message. And he did not miss a beat. He picked up right where he left off in the 2015 season. There may have been surgeries, and crutches, and rehab in between. But Blake has come back stronger, both mentally and physically, ready for whatever life throws at him next.

Robert Morris would go on to defeat Dayton for the first time in 17 years by a final score of 13-10. Blake contributed 69 rushing yards as his presence was immediately felt on what was one of the biggest upsets for Robert Morris in recent memory.

It was a special moment for a special player, and hopefully, the start of something truly inspiring. Perhaps the happy ending the Cole Blake’s story that all of Colonial Country is rooting for.

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