Cole continues remarkable climb up depth chart

Sarah Mitchell

On the same day Travis Cole packed his suitcase to return home from visiting Minnesota, he decided to return to the Gophers in the fall.
Miles and miles from home, but just a dial away, Cole called his father Steve in Lake Oswego, Ore., for reassurance.
Not sure of the answer, Steve passed an old cliche over the line.
“Travis said, ‘Well, I like it well enough to committ,'” Steve said. “I said, ‘I’ll pick you up in the airport. I assume you’re going to have a Gophers hat on.’ And so I went out later that evening to pick him up and he had a big smile on his face and a Minnesota Gophers hat.”
Cole earned the hat. His arrival to a top-notch conference like the Big Ten was slow in coming.
Cole started the 2000 season as the back-up quarterback. But an anemic Gophers offense once quarterbacked by redshirt freshman Asad Abdul-Khaliq made Cole the starter.
Another part of Cole’s football dream was realized.
“My goal was to come in here and start,” Cole said. “I accepted my role as being a back-up. That role, you just have to keep working hard everyday just as much as the next guy.”
Cole’s career began at Lakeridge High School in Oswego. Under the tutelage of coach Mike Coulson, Cole switched from wide receiver to quarterback his junior year.
A strong arm — Cole was drafted as a pitcher in the 52nd round in the 2000 Major League draft by the Toronto Blue Jays — and speed made his transition smoother.
During his senior season, Cole was offered football scholarships to Montana State, Eastern Washington and Portland State.
Foothill Junior College was in the mix, too, thanks to the urging of a family friend. Jon Crosswhite, also a quarterback, graduated from Lakeridge four years earlier and went to play for Marshall Sperbeck at Foothill.
After two seasons, Crosswhite went to Utah. But he continued to speak highly of Sperbeck’s program.
“We jumped on an airplane before Travis made his decision,” Steve said. “It was going to be a trapdoor, so to speak, if Travis didn’t get any other offers.”
The safety net soon turned into Cole’s top choice. In a risky move, Cole passed on the other scholarship offers and went to Foothill.
In his first season, Cole gray-shirted, meaning he didn’t enroll as a fulltime student until the winter and that’s when his NCAA eligibility clock began ticking. The free year gave Cole time to hone his skills.
“He was kind of a stallion,” Sperbeck said. “We needed to refine some things.”
The next two seasons were a hoot for Cole and the Owls. He started all 22 games, throwing for 5,136 yards and 58 touchdowns.
“We only lost three games while he was the quarterback,” Sperbeck said. “He did a real nice job on the field.”
Then Cole began playing a different field, the recruiting game. His career numbers at Foothill drew interest from Southern California, Rutgers, San Diego State and Minnesota.
“He ultimately made the final decision on his own,” Sperbeck said. “I thought the Minnesota situation was a good one for him just because they were losing a senior and were going to play with a younger kid.”
The Gophers lost former quarterback Billy Cockerham to graduation, leaving Andy Persby and Abdul-Khaliq on the depth chart.
After being drafted in the Major League draft, Persby left to pursue a pitching career. Abdul-Khaliq was annointed the starter.
Abdul-Khaliq was benched in the first half of Minnesota’s 38-24 loss at Purdue. The Gophers weren’t moving the ball. Cole came in, picked-up some first downs and earned the starting role.
Cole’s first test is Saturday when Minnesota hosts Illinois. Cole is confident about the direction he is moving in, like he was when he came to Minnesota.
“I don’t think the (butterflies) will start until Saturday,” Cole said.

Sarah Mitchell covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]