CHARLOTTE – When last seen, defensive tackle Colin Cole was helping the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a 7-9 record shock the world by knocking off the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
Now, some 28 months later, Cole is working feverishly to come out of nowhere again.
"I don't think words can really describe how excited I am to have another opportunity to get out on the football field," said Cole, who signed with the Panthers in February and will take the next step in his comeback Tuesday when Organized Team Activities begin. "As far as the last couple of years, they just serve to fuel the fire for me to get back on the gridiron and compete more than I have at any time in my career."
Cole appeared to have truly come into his own in 2010. After spending four seasons as a valuable backup with the Green Bay Packers, Cole signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks prior to the 2009 season.
He immediately became a starter and a good one at that. He picked up where he left off in 2010, and come the midway mark of the season, the 330-pound run stuffer had helped the Seahawks rank second in the NFL in rushing defense.
Cole, however, then suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for five games. He returned and gutted it out for the final four games of the regular season, which ended with the Seahawks ranked 21st against the run. Cole then started both playoff games as Seattle won a shootout over New Orleans before falling to the Chicago Bears the next week.
His ankle required surgery after the season, and the rehab was rough. Cole, in fact, underwent four procedures in all and was expected to begin the 2011 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but the Seahawks instead released him.
"There were teams interested, but my ankle still wasn't 100 percent," Cole said. "I missed all of training camp and only really started running the last couple of days on it. I just wasn't in good shape, and I still had to have surgery to have hardware removed. I had some pretty serious stuff going on.
"Speaking with my wife and with my agent at the time, it was a better move for me to take a year off."
Last August, Cole decided to move to Charlotte independent of football, in part because his wife has family here. He again fielded some interest from NFL teams, but nothing happened until after the season when the Panthers added him to the roster.
"Once the season was over with, I started reaching out to teams, including some connections here, and they were interested," Cole said. "They were actually interested during last season, but things just didn't pan out. Then awhile back I came in for a workout, and the rest is history."
Now Cole hopes to make some history of his own while repeating history at the same time. More than a decade ago, the Panthers acquired defensive end Al Wallace after he not played in a regular season game for three seasons, and Wallace responded to his second chance with five productive seasons.
"It's been a long road, but the ankle is great," Cole said. "I'm just excited about getting on the field and proving I can still do it at a high level.
"I plan on doing some good things this year."