Saint Francis cornerback Willy Cole becomes a name to remember

Saint Francis cornerback Willy Cole, center, breaks up a pass against Saint Francis of Illinois on Sept. 9 at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)

Saint Francis cornerback Willy Cole, center, breaks up a pass against Saint Francis of Illinois on Sept. 9 at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)

He’s listed as Wilmer Cole on the roster, but he prefers everyone call him Willy.

Considering how well Cole has been playing at cornerback for the No. 1 University of Saint Francis Cougars, this is an important distinction. Willy Cole is definitely making a name for himself.

Through six games, Cole, a junior cornerback, has 30 tackles (17 solo) with two interceptions, four passes broken up and six passes defended. He ranks third on the team behind linebackers Piercen Harnish and Eric Dunten in tackles and solo tackles and leads the team in breakups and passes defended.

Those are great stats.

This is the highest praise:

“We’ve had some great corners throughout 20 years,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “That guy right there is as good as any, or better. A great athlete. Great speed. Long arms. He’s a good one. A team guy, a coachable guy. I’d put him up against anybody we’ve had.”

To put Donley’s praise in perspective, Saint Francis has had 18 defensive backs in 20 years make the first-team Mid-States Football Association team. They’ve had four defensive backs make the NAIA first-team All-American list and many more second team or honorable mention.

The fact Cole earns that type of compliment from Donley means he’s en route to an exceptional season and career. Cole is the veteran leader of a strong cornerback crew that also includes sophomores Ryan Johnson, Stan Jackson and Jack Givens.

That crew will be tested again when Saint Francis (6-0) plays next at Siena Heights (4-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Adrian, Mich.

“We’re starting to mold together pretty well,” Cole said. “We want those other guys on the field for their speed, and that’s a good asset for us.”

Cole loves the challenge of the pass-heavy MSFA schedule.

“Anytime we get an opponent that passes a lot, it makes my day,” he said. “I know I’m going to get some action, rather than all the running for Dunten and Harnish and all of them.”

Cole’s biggest play so far this season came in the 31-24 win over rival Marian two weeks ago. With the Cougars holding onto the lead with 2:26 left, Cole knocked an end zone pass away from Marian receiver Brandon Dillon.

As a junior, he has also tried to assert himself as more of a leader.

“Our communication is great right now,” Cole said. “I feel like everybody is starting to look up to me in a way. That’s changed a little bit. Na’Shawn (Lewis, who graduated) left a spot open in the corner group for me to step up.”

Cole played his high school football at Warren Central and he said he was recruited by Saint Francis, Marian and Tiffin.

“I kind of wanted to get away from home a little bit, rather than staying in the city,” Cole said. “I felt it would be better for me to get away from my parents and grow up a little bit. It’s been a great experience.”

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