Cole Reynolds will be the first to say he has never been the biggest, strongest or most talented guy on the football field.
But what the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Independence senior starting safety may lack in ability, size and strength, he makes up for with an intelligence, football IQ and work ethic few can match, according to coach Joe Evans.
Reynolds, 17, is starting at strong safety for the second straight season and maintaining a 4.9167 GPA, tying him for No. 1 in his class.
Reynolds juggles the rigorous football regimen with a school schedule that includes AP Computer Science, AP English 4, AP Government, AP Spanish, calculus and Honors Senior Seminar, while also holding a part-time job at Auto Bell.
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Reynolds also is on Independence’s Dream Team, a student-council-like group focused on leadership that performs regular community service.
His last B on a report card came in a third-grade writing class at Piney Grove Elementary. His academic and athletic resumes already have grabbed the attention of Brown, Harvard and Princeton.
“I don’t stop to think a lot about what I am doing, I just get it done,” said Reynolds, who said his mother, Jill Harkey, keeps him motivated. “I just kind of go all the time and just keep doing what I have to do. Of course, school always comes first, and then sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s after school, at night, early in the morning before school – whatever it takes.”
Evans, in his second year in charge of the Independence football program, said he has been impressed with Reynolds.
“Cole is a great kid, very well-rounded and really put together for a person his age,” Evans said. “His work ethic is amazing. Any time you can have that kind of success in the classroom and then also find time to be a good football player, it takes a lot of motivation. Cole wants to be good at everything, but he is also willing to do the work it takes to get there.”
After playing linebacker on the junior varsity team most of his freshman and sophomore seasons, Reynolds broke into the varsity starting lineup at safety early in 2013 against West Mecklenburg.
Reynolds had 88 tackles (7.3 stops per game), an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery as a junior. He had 15 tackles against Porter Ridge, 14 in the season finale against Butler and 12 in the playoff game against the Bulldogs.
Reynolds has good speed and is a standout on the Patriots’ indoor and outdoor track teams, earning Southwestern 4A conference runner-up in the 400 meters this past spring.
Reynolds has continued his strong play this season with six tackles on an Independence defense that had two shutouts in its first two games against South Mecklenburg and North Mecklenburg. The Patriots outscored opponents by a combined 77-0.
“The coaches put us in the right spot to make plays,” said Reynolds, crediting secondary coach Daniel Cooke and defensive coordinator Clarence Bates as well as Evans. “They are always talking about ‘assignment and alignment.’ So if you do what they tell us to do, you will make plays. That’s what I try to do.”
Reynolds is part of a deep and experienced Patriots secondary with senior Adonis Alexander (committed to Virginia Tech) at free safety and seniors Tim Marshall, Elijah Small and Cederick Stone rotating in at the two cornerback spots.
Seniors Cordell McMurray and Beau Parsons also see a lot of time in the secondary.
“It’s been nice to have the experience that we have in the secondary,” Evans said. “We have safeties who can also play corner, and we have corners who can play safety. We can move guys around, mix and match and confuse offenses.”
Reynolds said he doesn’t like coming off the field; he also is a member of the kickoff team, kickoff-return team and punt team.
“It’s nice to have that depth, but usually I don’t admit when I’m tired, I just tell a little lie and say I’m fine,” Reynolds said, chuckling. “I don’t ever want to come off the field.”
Reynolds and the Patriots have benefited from five new assistant coaches who were part of Independence’s 109-game win streak and seven straight 4A state championship run: D.J. McFadden, Zavis Padgett, D.J. Rankin, Jeff Romanelli and Billy Wiggins.
“These guys never lost a high school game and they don’t plan on starting now,” Evans said. “They really push the kids every day and hold them accountable and show them how things are done.”
“They’ve brought a whole new energy to the team,” said Reynolds of the new assistants. “They are younger and more relatable. They want to push us like (former Independence) coach (Tom) Knotts did. They want to be treated like they were treated. It’s been great for our team,” he said.
“Of course, every Independence team wants to be that team that starts back the (championship) tradition,” Reynolds said. “Our coaches don’t put a lot of pressure on us, but we they do tell us we could be that team.
“The players all want to be that team, and we believe we can do it.”