The rising sophomore Hokies safety from Cave Spring High in Roanoke, who had to be immobilized and taken to a hospital after suffering a scary neck injury in the Florida State game last November, has been advised by Virginia Tech doctors not to continue his football career, the school announced Thursday.
Cole will retire from football but remain an active part of the team on the sidelines.
“I would just like to thank coach [Frank] Beamer, coach [Bryan] Stinespring — who recruited me — and all of the coaches in making my dreams come true,” Cole said in a release from the school. “It truly has been an honor and a blessing to be led by such a highly respected group of people.
“I would also like to thank my friends and family back home and the entire Hokie Nation, which has supported me throughout my career. It pains me that I will never be able to put the pads on again for this prestigious program and university, but in spite of all this, I will forever be a Hokie.”
Per NCAA rules, Cole qualifies for a medical disqualification and will remain on scholarship, although it does not count toward Tech’s limit of 85.
“I am disappointed that Michael Cole will no longer be playing football at Virginia Tech,” Beamer said in the release. “Good players with great character are hard to replace. I believe Michael has a great future no matter what road he decides to take.”
Cole, who turns 20 a week from Friday, was diagnosed with a cervical neck sprain during the Florida State game and did not return to the field the rest of the season. After consulting with Virginia Tech’s medical team, it was decided that surgery would give him only a minimal chance of playing football again and was a route not worth pursuing.
“The doctor basically said that the only way he would let him go back and even consider playing was to do a two-level discectomy and fusion, basically take the discs out and fuse the vertebrae,” Cole’s father, Jim Cole, said. “And that’s not done very often. They’ve done some in the NFL for one level, but two-level is almost unheard of.
“And even then, he wouldn’t know if he could do anything for about six months and it was all healed and it was fused together to see if it would even work properly. … In his situation, they just said that the risk too great, particularly for a guy that young.”
His absence is another blow for a secondary that’s been hit by injuries the last few months. Cornerback Antone Exum is out six to nine months after tearing his ACL playing pickup basketball last month. He had surgery last week.
With the Hokies light on cornerbacks last season, Cole played a significant number of snaps in the team’s nickel package. He played in 10 games, starting four, and had 43 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. He was an honorable mention Freshman All-American by CFN.com.
His season was cut short during the Thursday night game in Blacksburg against Florida State, however.
Cole stayed down at the end of a play in the third quarter, lying motionless as team trainers rushed onto the field. He was immobilized on a spine board but never lost consciousness, taken to LewisGale Hospital Montgomery, where a CT scan revealed no neck fracture. He was released from the hospital that night.
Jim Cole said Michael underwent surgery earlier this month to treat some of the symptoms from the injury — shoulder and neck pain, plus some reduced strength in his right arm. He said the successful procedure cleaned out part of the vertebrae to make more room for nerve bundles. Michael has since resumed weight lifting.
“He’ll be able to do basically everything except play contact sports,” Jim Cole said. “But anything else, it’s not going to be a problem.”