Cole has Manning, whitetail deer in his sights

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Eagles defensive end Trent Cole has been hunting whitetail deer since he was in fourth grade. But he waited until junior high to start hunting quarterbacks.

He's been flying under the national radar since entering the league as a fifth-round pick out of Cincinnati in 2005. But opposing offensive tackles and tight ends don't need an introduction.

Cole briefly lost his starting job in 2006 to the pricey Darren Howard, but that didn't last long. When the equally overrated Jevon Kearse went down with an injury, Cole replaced him in the lineup for good. And on Dec. 17 of that season, the former high school running back stepped in front of an Eli Manning pass and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.

The play happened in the Meadowlands, and Cole's reputation began to grow around the league. When we talked via phone Thursday morning, he admitted that he still draws inspiration from that interception in the Meadowlands.

"Yeah, that was pretty nice," said the soft-spoken Cole. "It was a great feeling and it's something that gave me a lot of confidence."

When he arrived in Cincinnati, Cole was 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. He started out as a nose tackle in 2002, and he recalls giving up 100 pounds to players from Ohio State and West Virginia.

"They would look at me, look at each other and just start laughing," he said. "Then I'd wear them out all afternoon. They kept asking me to slow down for a couple of plays."

Cole's coming off a breakout season in which he finished with 12.5 sacks and replaced Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney in the Pro Bowl. He said it was an exciting moment, but he wasn't happy about his "alternate" status. This season, Cole is commanding a lot more attention, and he's been held to three sacks. But instead of pressing, he continues to work on his all-around game. He led all NFC defensive ends in tackles last season with 103 and has 49 tackles through eight games in 2008.

"That's something I take a lot of pride in," he said. "Teams don't run to my side out of respect. I never wanted to be looked at as a specialist."

Cole brings that same type of approach to his other passion, hunting whitetail deer -- and pretty much anything else that calls Ohio home. Nicknamed "The Hunter," by his teammates, the player owns a company called Cole Outdoor Productions that brings "stunning videos into your living room."

Cole's uncle, Jerry, has been a National Bowhunter Association instructor and he serves as a member of his nephew's production staff. The defensive end owns four farms in southern Ohio, where he does most of his hunting. In addition to his "addiction to pursuing whitetails," Cole's hunted quail, pheasant, wild boar, coyote and water fowl. When he was in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, he joined Patriots linemen Matt Light and Logan Mankins on a wild-boar hunt. Cole came away with a 250-pound boar.

Not to catch you off guard, but the 26-year-old Cole is single. He said he's taken dates hunting before just to see how they'd react.

"They need to know up front what I'm about," Cole joked. "I don't want to hide the ball on them."

On Thanksgiving Day each year, the men in the Cole family go rabbit-hunting together. It's usually a party of six, and they rarely come home empty-handed.

"There ain't no secret to shootin' a rabbit," he explained. "You just better be able to shoot straight. You have to lead them a little. After when we're done, a lot of people offer us money for rabbits, but we just hand them out for free."

But before you get PETA on the line, you should know that Cole stresses his respect for hunting rules and regulations. From his point of view, he's doing his part to help control the animal population in southern Ohio. And you could certainly think of a worse holiday for shooting rabbits.

Cole went to Illinois in search of whitetail deer during the Eagles' bye week, but this weekend he'll be hunting Manning (sans the bow).

He'll encounter obstacles such as Giants left tackle David Diehl and tight end Kevin Boss along the way, because his days of seeing one-on-one blocking are over. As former Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas informed him in 2005, Cole has to stay low and use his quickness to compensate for his relatively small frame for a defenseive end.

"I need to be low when I turn the corner," he said. "You have to bull-rush a couple of times, and then try to run past the tackle."

Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has told me before that Cole is his least favorite player to block because he refuses to take a play off.

I'm sure there are some whitetails in southern Ohio who know the feeling.