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Pinecrest kicker Braden Cole signs his National Letter of Intent to play football for Davidson Thursday.

Braden Cole didn’t let two ACL injuries, coming to a new school two years ago and being told he needed to bulk up from his wiry frame or playing behind a Division-I kicker his junior year stop him from reaching his goal.

In fact, all the adversity he faced in the last five years only added to his drive. Through it all, the Pinecrest senior kicking specialist separated himself in the weight room, classroom and on the field to earn himself a spot at the next level.

“I learned that you’ve just gotta keep your head down and keep going,” Cole said. “I went through 16 months of recovery total for each (injury). You’ve got to keep your head straight and keep going. It’s about hard work and perseverance through it all. You’ve just have to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Cole reached that light at the end of the tunnel when signed to play football next fall at Davidson in the Pinecrest fieldhouse in front of many of his teammates, coaches and family.

Coach Bob Curtin commended Cole for his work in the special teams game this season, and told his counterparts in the audience that his performance on the field came as a result of his work off the field.

“A lot of people talk about putting work in, but that’s just one aspect of the hard work that Braden put in. The other aspect is that he worked on his technical skills,” Curtin said.

Cole was selected all-conference after going 11 for 13 on field goal tries this season. His longest made field goal this season was from 49 yards, which Curtin said “would’ve made it from 53.”

He also averaged 52.6 yards per kickoff this season, and averaged 41 yards per punt, with a long of 62 yards.

Transferring to Pinecrest from Altoona, Pennsylvania, the genesis of his nickname “Toona,” Cole was a football kicker with a soccer background. He suffered an ACL injury his sophomore year, and an extended offseason due to the pandemic gave him time to recover for last season, which was moved to spring 2021. For much of last season, Cole was the backup kicker behind Jeff Yurk, but he stepped in during the two playoff games to kick for the Patriots.

Since coming to Pinecrest, Cole has transformed his body in the weight room, and the senior has used that time as his own oasis to clear his mind.

“My dad and I had been working out since I was like 10 years old, mainly soccer stuff, and I really didn’t start lifting until I started playing football,” Cole said. “I just fell in love with lifting. It’s just a passion of mine, it’s a hobby. Working out gives me progress with everything, and also it’s my space away from reality. It’s my safe place.”

Sporting a 4.0 GPA, Cole heads to Davidson, known for its high standards for entry into the college, and plans to major in either biology or pre-med there. The atmosphere at the school is something that stood out to Cole during his visits to campus.

“The athletic and academic competitive environment there is unbelievable,” Cole said. “When you surround yourself with competitive people, you become better yourself. I saw that as an opportunity to better myself and I believe that is the best fit for me as an athlete.”

Given the state of college recruiting, Curtin said the academic standards that Cole has reached played a part in setting himself apart.

“The one thing that I find most important to me, especially now in this recruiting period where we have a five-year COVID opportunity, the transfer portal and now they have high school students, there are four years of everything backed up,” Curtin said. “A 4.0 will set you aside. A 3.4 will set you apart.”

Contact Jonathan Bym at (910) 693-2470 or jonathan@thepilot.com.

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