Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: After leading Cedar Hill to state title in 2006, William Cole failed to meet expectations but is looking for one last chance
Cedar Hill players walked off the Alamodome field in 2006 as the Class 5A Division II champions. William Cole, the lightning-quick quarterback who had led the Longhorns to a royal thumping of Cypress Falls, left San Antonio as the king of Texas high school football.
Cole needed only 14 carries to rush for 290 yards and three touchdowns in the title game. He also threw a touchdown pass. He was so spectacular that Cedar Hill, which had never won a playoff game before that season, was able to begin its championship celebration in the third quarter.
Six years later, Cedar Hill is a state power and will battle Katy in Saturday’s 5A Division II title game. The current Longhorns will try to match the school’s first champ, which included 12 seniors who signed Division I scholarships and two players who are now in the NFL.
That 2006 team put Cedar Hill on the football map. But after the championship game, the Longhorns’ biggest star seemed to fall off of it. Cole signed with Oklahoma State, played one season as a receiver, injured his knee and then became the subject of a “whatever happened to” question.
Now, at age 24 and five years removed from his only season of college football, Cole wants one more shot.
“I’ve been trying to get people talking to Jerry Jones,” Cole said. “I’m just waiting patiently for the opportunity. I think I can at least make the practice squad.”
Holding out hope
Cole still looks like he can play football. He was 5-10 and 165 pounds as a senior at Cedar Hill, but he’s now 6-foot and 185 pounds. He works out at the Arlington Park Recreation Center down the street from where he lives in northwest Dallas.
He follows Cedar Hill football pretty closely, and he said he’ll watch the championship game on television.
“I’m real proud of this team,” he said. “It feels good to see another team do it.”
Cole isn’t married, but he has a 4-year-old daughter, Kymani, who lives in Houston, and a 3-year-old daughter, Keionna, who lives in Oklahoma City. Cole has a good relationship with their mothers, he said, and visits as much as he can.
Cole plays a lot of flag football, and friends call him to compete in tournaments around the Dallas area. In May, he was one of the stars at Cedar Hill’s first alumni flag football game.
“He was as good as anyone out there,” said Joey McGuire, who has coached Cedar Hill since 2003.
McGuire, who talks to Cole a couple of times per month, said his former star still has some football left in him.
“I’ve always said that if he can get on the field for a whole season, he will get picked up by somebody.”
That’s Cole’s hope. He wants to provide for his daughters, but he doesn’t have a job right now. He lives with his mother, aunt and cousin in a home where the football from the 2006 title game is on a shelf, nestled in the MVP trophy.
“On Dec. 23, it will be six years,” Cole said, flashing the smile that became familiar during Cedar Hill’s championship run. “I can’t believe it.”
Few would’ve believed before the 2006 season that Cedar Hill could win 16 straight games and claim a state title. Even the Longhorns, led by a tight group of seniors, were a little stunned as the season progressed.
“We were just a bunch of kids from the neighborhood having fun,” Cole said. “What I remember is the togetherness we had over the year. We all came together each game.”
The Longhorns were stacked with talent that included two current NFL players: defensive back Josh Thomas (Carolina Panthers) and receiver Dezmon Briscoe (Washington Redskins). Their only competitive playoff game came in the state semifinals, when Cedar Hill beat Garland, 31-24.
The Cedar Hill defense preserved the victory with a goal-line stand in the final minute, but it was Cole who put the Longhorns ahead with a 77-yard run. He hurdled a diving defender on the way to the end zone, in a run that was dazzling, and for him, amazingly typical.
He finished the season with 1,606 yards and 21 touchdowns as a passer, and his rushing numbers were astounding. He averaged more than 10 yards per carry, finishing with 2,966 yards and 41 touchdowns.
“He always told me, Coach, I’m not trying to make the first guy miss,” McGuire said. “I’m trying to make the second guy miss because the first guy isn’t going to get me anyway.”
One and done
Cole was recruited heavily as a receiver, but he preferred the position of defensive back. One reason: He would get to hit people instead of getting hit. He signed with Oklahoma State and planned to redshirt as a freshman.
But sitting out was tough. So was college.
“I wasn’t ready for college life,” Cole said. “I was kind of immature at the time.”
Cole acknowledges that his attitude wasn’t always great, and he missed playing. So when coaches told him he could play immediately if he switched to receiver, he jumped at the chance. He played in six games, caught two passes for 7 yards and rushed once for 3 yards.
In the fall camp before his sophomore year, Cole was battling for a starting spot at receiver alongside fellow sophomore and future Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant. One week before the season opener, Cole suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during a noncontact workout.
Cole’s season was over. He could rehab the knee during a redshirt season and have three more years to play, but Cole would never play college football again.
He wasn’t allowed to be on the sidelines on game days, couldn’t travel with the team and felt isolated. Without football, his immaturity flared. He started skipping classes, his grades slid, and in December 2008, two years after Cole helped Cedar Hill raise the championship trophy, he was dropped from the team.
“If I had just stayed patient and used my whole redshirt year and then my next three years there,” Cole said. “I kick myself every day.”
Cole took a semester off and enrolled at North Texas. He practiced with the team in the fall but didn’t last the semester. In May 2010, he was visiting a friend at UNT and was arrested by police for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. He served 40 hours of community service and finished one year of probation in March.
“It was a mistake,” he said. “One of the many mistakes I made.”
It was part of a very difficult time that started with the injury.
“Looking back, the ACL really messed up my mind-set. At UNT, I practiced, but I wasn’t really there. I really messed that up,” he said. “I fell off the deep end. I was depressed.”
One more chance
Smiling on the front steps of his house, waving as cars drive by, Cole is no longer depressed. He’s determined. Give him a few months to get in shape, he said, and he’ll be ready.
For a tryout, that is. But who’s going to take a chance on a player who’s been out of football so long?
Cole stays in touch with Bryant, and the two are planning to work out together in the off-season. Bryant said he’s going to try to help him.
“He’s my boy,” Bryant said.
Cole said he might attend the open tryouts in February for the Texas Revolution, the arena football team based in Allen. His sister, Briggette Allen, is trying to set up tryouts with teams in the Canadian Football League.
Allen, 40, lives in the same neighborhood as her brother. She’s a big football fan and the first person Cole called when he tore his ACL.
“He’s just needs one break to show that he’s not a high school has-been,” Allen said. “He’s 24 years old, he’s got two little girls and he realizes this is his last chance.”
If he can get one.
“I feel like he still has what it takes to play in the [NFL],” said former Cedar Hill teammate Tory Tyner, a defensive back who signed with Tulsa out of high school.
Briscoe, who is in his third year in the NFL, said he’s surprised that Cole didn’t have more football success.
“I’m very surprised,” Briscoe said. “He was hands down one of the best high school players ever.
“But sometimes things just don’t work out.”
Cole hopes there’s still time for things to work out, and he’s staying positive.
“You have to be positive when the ball isn’t in your court no more,” he said. “It’s irritating to be patient, I ain’t going to lie to you. But it hasn’t broken me.”
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter at @mattwixon