Southwestern Randolph’s Adam Cole runs behind teammate Eli Gravely during a 2022 football game. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)
Southwestern Randolph product seeks more fast times in football
ASHEBORO – Adam Cole figured out pretty early that the best way to make an impression was to do it fast.
He sprinted to a special high school career for Southwestern Randolph.
It mostly came about through football and baseball, allowing his foot speed to set him apart.
By his senior year, he became the face of the football program.
“It’s kind of a role I have to take,” he said. “It’s not like I control it. I definitely like it. It gives me a sense of responsibility, too. I like that. I definitely think I’m a leader on the field.”
That helped translate into a record career, setting the school standard for career touchdowns. He was a receiver and cornerback.
A center fielder on the baseball field, he gave track and field a try and ended up in the Class 2-A state meet as a junior.
But football has had his attention.
“I’m just not this big, huge guy you’d look at and say he’s going D-I,” Cole said this spring. “I’m 180 pounds.”
While the speed component is nice, a commitment to build himself as an overall athlete allowed him to excel.
“I was playing at 150 pounds last year,” he said last August in reference to his junior season. “I’m about 170. I want to be about 185. Just playing baseball and football and going to camps every day, I really haven’t had a day off this summer. It’s definitely not letting me gain as much as I want to.”
The workload largely paid off as Cole ended his high school career by being selected as the Male Athlete of the Year in the Piedmont Athletic Conference.
Cole’s speed puts others in awe, but he looks at the fine print.
“I’ve always been fast,” he said. “I was running a 4.7 40(-yard dash). That’s honestly terrible for a receiver if you’re trying to go play college football. I’ve put in a lot of work over the summer. I’d get up early before we had baseball practice or before football practice, go do field work. I’d go do work. I work out every day. I went from a 4.7 40 to a 4.4.”
For Southwestern Randolph, Cole’s speed gave the Cougars a valuable weapon.
“Fastest dude I’ve seen around here,” said Easton Clapp, a classmate and quarterback. “No one can keep up with him, if not the best athlete we got. Crazy fast. He can run routes like crazy.”
Opponents knew it, too.
“He’s crazy fast,” Randleman linebacker Thomas Dobias said. “He’s probably the fastest kid in our conference, for sure.”
Prior to his freshman year, Southwestern Randolph coaches had an inkling Cole might be an impact player. They had him work with varsity players in summer camps.
“I started enjoying it because I knew by my sophomore, junior, senior year, I would really be one of the best around,” he said.
A broken ankle mostly derailed that first season in high school. He called his junior season the best when he scored 23 touchdowns.
Cole accepted the attention that followed.
“It makes me play better because I know I have a standard to play up to,” he said. “I know people are watching and really expecting a lot of me. I like that. I like the pressure knowing I have to be something. It just gives me a sense of confidence.”
As the touchdown totals soared, his reputation as a speedster grew.
“They joke about it all the time. Yeah, they know,” Cole said of reaction from teammates. “I don’t remember any time in four years of high school football, I don’t think I’ve ever been run down.”
Betting on himself
Cole is joining the East Carolina football program as a preferred walk-on. Division I scholarship offers weren’t coming his way, but he didn’t want to settle for anything else.
“I’m not trying to be cocky in any way, but I feel like I’m more talented than to go D-II, D-III,” he said. “I’m just betting on myself. I’m going to work my way up and I think I’ll be on scholarship after a few years if I work as hard as I can and everything goes to plan.”
Yet he sensed interest from the Pirates and assistant coach Roy Tesh, who was his primary recruiter. Cole’s workout last year in Greenville made a difference.
“I just showed out at that camp,” he said. “They talked to me more consistent than really any other school did which is surprising.”
At the outset, he’ll be pegged as a defensive back.
“I would rather be scoring touchdowns, but I like defense, too,” he said.
He might also try punt returns and kickoff returns.
Too fast, this time
While getting to spots on the field faster is generally a bonus, it doesn’t always have the greatest results.
That’s what happened in the Cougars’ third-to-last football game last fall. Randleman’s Chesney Welch made a catch and took off toward the end zone.
“It was a play across the field and I chased him down and punched the ball out,” Cole said. “When I punched, I hit just his elbow with this pinky right here. It snapped this bone right here.”
He was pointing to his right hand.
But on that mid-October night, Cole wasn’t finished. He stayed in the game, ending up filling in at quarterback in the Cougars’ 34-7 loss.
“I played through the game,” he said. “I didn’t really feel it until I came off.”
It marked his final high school football game. The next day he went for an exam. Surgery was scheduled.
Cole sent a photo of X-ray to Welch, who probably could have done without a reminder of the sequence.
“Adam running his 4.3 came down and poked it out,” Welch said. “You don’t want to be chased by him.”
Even now, there’s a sliver of satisfaction for Cole that came from that play. He not only caused the fumble, he recovered the ball.
Cole said he made the most of the rehabilitation.
“My grip strength increased because I did therapy for it,” he said.
Burning up base paths
Cole’s baseball numbers might suggest a future in that sport. He led the Cougars this year by batting over .490 in addition to swatting four home runs. He had been a mainstay in the Randolph County Post 45 lineup for two years, and even spent a couple of weeks with the team this spring prior to football commitments in Greenville.
“I don’t really enjoy baseball like I do football,” he said. “I go out of my way to go put in work for football. Baseball, I just kind of go out there and play.”
Played it quite well. Classmate Tyler Parks, a North Carolina baseball signee, saw up close what Cole’s speed could do.
“With baseball, speed doesn’t slump,’ Parks said. “He can fly. He has always been fast. As he got older, he just got faster. He just keeps getting faster. I work out with Adam. It’s just unreal how quick he is.”
Show it on the track
While Cole’s speed wasn’t camouflaged, it hadn’t been on display in the most obvious way – on the track – until his junior year.
“I was joking around with the track coach: When you going to put me on the roster and let me run?” Cole remembered.
Next thing he knew, he was sprinting in the 100 meters and then taking off to go play baseball.
It resulted in more than a spring fling. Cole became the Class 2-A Midwest Regional champion in the 100 in 2022.
“I didn’t expect to go out there and win regionals, and went to the states,” he said. “I’d never run track in my life. Definitely pretty cool.”
For the most part, track became a part-time pursuit.
“I don’t practice track,” he said. “I just go to baseball.”
But extra sprinting had side benefits.
“It’s really good for me,” he said. “Because baseball isn’t a ton of running, it’s keeping me in shape. Keeping me fast. Last year when I needed to go to camps to get recruited, it helped my 40-yard dash a lot. It’s helped my form. It’s a good way to compete.”
That might have been the biggest factor. A chance to test himself in a different forum.
“Really, I just like to compete,” he said. “That’s the big thing.”
Still, at this spring’s Randolph County Championships, Cole said there were doubters. He referred to it as guys talking smack.
For his part, Cole won the 100 and 200 meters.
“It’s in one ear and out the other,” he said. “I’m a baseball player. I’m fast, too, and I can do good in things like this. Coming out here not training for track and just being able to win all these track meets like I am makes me feel good. Really, I like to win.”
And for Cole, the faster, the better.