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Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Similarities abound between Cole, Lewan

By Chantel Jennings

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It was a bear hug in the middle of Schembechler Hall from offensive tackle Taylor Lewan that made Maggie Cole know her youngest child, Mason Cole (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake), would be fine moving far from home and settling in Michigan.

“He came in and introduced himself and said, ‘Oh, I don’t shake moms’ hands; I hug them,’ “ Maggie said. “I looked at Mason and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy, you’re like his mini clone.’ And then we spent time with him, and I thought everything about Taylor, well, this is Mason in five years.”

Lewan’s play on the field is obviously something Cole aspires to. But where Maggie saw the real connection in the two tackles was how they connected to their teammates and the people around them.

Having already raised one offensive lineman, Mason's older brother, Maggie knew they were a special breed. She was accustomed to having several linemen over for breakfast, lunch or dinner, calling them the team’s “gentle giants.”

Lewan, as intimidating as he was on the field, was to Maggie another one of those gentle giants.

Over a month before Mason made his commitment, the Cole family watched on TV as Lewan announced that he would return to Michigan to play his final season, passing on the NFL and millions of dollars.

Again, Maggie saw it as something Mason would do. Lewan said he wanted to return for the team, and that’s why Mason always loved the O-line. Not only was football a team sport. The offensive line was a team within the team.

“I just fell in love with football,” Mason said. “I wanted to play all day, every day. ... There’s just something about being on the offensive line that just draws me in to it.”

And for a lot of the guys who play on the offensive line, that’s the deal. It’s a thankless position without any kind of limelight or glory. If the O-line works well, it makes everyone else look good; it makes wide receivers and running backs get headlines. But when the O-line doesn’t work well, the linemen get all the blame.

It does take a special breed to want to play that kind of a position.

“I tease him that it’s all about the pretty boys, the boys who catch the ball, the quarterback, it’s about this or that,” Maggie said. “But [people] forget that those boys wouldn’t do what they do without those five guys on the line. But he’s like, ‘Yeah, whatever. I do what I do.’ But I think that’s how most O-linemen are. I’ve learned that.”

It’s that rare combination of size and agility, a bull-like attitude and short memory that make the good offensive linemen so few and far between.

They’re the kind of players, like Mason, who can rave about the cheesesteak at Ann Arbor’s Mr. Spots but get it with water, just to be “healthy.”

They go from serious to sarcastic and back again without a moment’s notice.

They get tattoos of mustaches on their fingers (though, perhaps Maggie hopes this similarity never comes to fruition).

They’re kind to a fault and headstrong to the point of annoying, but they’ll argue that it’s what makes them good.

One day when Mason was 4, he wanted the training wheels off his bike, but his parents didn’t have time that day to teach him how to ride his bike without them. So he convinced his older sister to take the training wheels off for him, and he taught himself how to ride it.

In third grade he picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time. His parents were unsure how their son, who already was excelling at football, would take to a game with such a different skill set. They tried to temper his expectations but he said he wanted to be the best, and by sixth grade he was named Clearwater Lacrosse’s player of the year.

So when Mason told his parents he wanted to enroll early at Michigan, they had their qualms, but ultimately knew that if it were what Mason thought was best for his future, it likely was.

They’re not going to doubt him now. And with role models like Lewan around, they’re not even going to worry about it.

“If he says he’s going to do something,” Maggie said, “he’s going to make it happen.”