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May 18, 2023

“The best ability is availability and if you need someone, no matter what it is, I’m your guy.”

Matt Cole began his professional career as a receiver and now calls himself a defensive back. He returns kicks and would absolutely insist his name be atop the sign-up list for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers special-teams units.

And so, safe to say if given the chance he’d also to play just about every position on the depth chart. Heck, he’d even likely raise his hand if there was a call for volunteers to paint the lines at IG Field. Canadian Football League training camps are all about opportunity, after all, and the 26-year-old Chicago product is going to make damn sure he empties his tank during this grind.

“It’s been sensational so far,” began Cole in a chat with bluebombers.com following Day 5 of Blue Bombers training camp. “Playing up here in the Canadian Football League I know there are a lot of different rules and changes I need to get acclimated to, a new learning curve, but I’m slowly getting there. I think I’m improving one day at a time.

“It is a grind. It really is. It’s a marathon. I’ve only been a professional for two years, but I know that at the end of the day it’s football, and all you can do is go out there and try and be the best player and the best teammate you can be.”

A star during his days with the McKendree Bearcats, a Division II school in Lebanon, Illinois, Cole was first signed by the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2020. Since then, he’s had looks from the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Giants, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Commanders. The Blue Bombers touched base with his agent in March and when he wasn’t offered an NFL mini-camp invite by May, he jumped at the chance to come north.

A receiver/returner during his college days – he was the Great Lakes Valley Conference Special Teams Player of the Year and a first-team All-GVLC as a receiver in his senior year – Cole’s transformation into a defensive back essentially began as a whim.

It was during training camp in 2021 when the Giants defensive backfield was suddenly short-handed after a rash of injuries. Just before an exhibition game against the Cleveland Browns, then-Giants head coach Joe Judge told Cole he might be playing some corner. Sure enough, Cole was inserted at the position – without taking a single rep there during camp – and had 20 snaps at corner, compared to five at receiver.

Cole called his side of the field ‘Cole World’ while Giants safety Julian Love began calling him ‘Windex’ after the father from ‘Big Fat Greek Wedding’ who put Windex on everything as a cure for everything ‘from psoriasis to poison ivy.’

“It was funny, but (the nickname) didn’t stick,” said Cole with a chuckle “In that moment it sounded good, but it’s just Cole, or Matt Cole, or Cole World or South Side.

“When the head coach at the time, Joe Judge, asked me if I was willing to play some DB I told him I’ll get in wherever I fit in. It just made me like a Swiss Army knife. It doesn’t matter if I’m a receiver or a DB, I just love the game.

“The best ability is availability and if you need someone, no matter what it is, I’m your guy.”

Cole is in a tough battle to land jobs in a suddenly crowded Blue Bombers secondary that includes Americans Deatrick Nichols, Brandon Alexander, Winston Rose, Alden Darby, Jr., with both Jamal Parker and Evan Holm coming off solid rookie seasons, with Demerio Houston returning from injury and with Desmond Lawrence having made an immediate impression after he was scooped up following his release by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

But availability and versatility are two key traits which certainly won’t hurt Cole’s chances.

“He can do a lot of different things,” said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “He’s been a receiver, he’s a DB now, a returner… he’s in our special-teams drills not returning, just doing regular competitive battling.

“He is strong and tough and a very strong-willed competitive. Athletically he’s certainly got a lot of talent. Then you combine that with what looks like a very high degree of professionalism – he seems very focussed on what he wants to get done – and it’s neat to watch.”

Cole doesn’t want to look too far in the future, but the first preseason game in Edmonton against the Elks on May 27th could be massive.

“That’s when I could really get the chance to showcase my talent and the skills I could bring to this organization,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I wouldn’t say I’m counting down the days, but just taking it day by day. I’m not looking forward too much, I’m just going to be where my feet are right now.”