Cole Hoover started 10 games on offensive line for EIU football during the 2019 season. (photo courtesy of EIU Athletics/Sandy King)

As we transition to fall sports, Kyle Daubs interviews top area athletes who are preparing for their respective sports. These athletes will share their individual goals, team desires and, sometimes, the challenges COVID-19 has created in getting set for the season. Like you all, we are excited at the possibilities for sports next month.

By Kyle Daubs

Fluke was the best word that came to mind.

Offensive lineman Cole Hoover’s junior year featured one of the worst records Eastern Illinois University’s football team has displayed in recent years. Finishing 1-11, the 2019 season was no doubt a tough year, but turning the program around while in the midst of a pandemic will also be a challenge.

The 2016 Charleston High School graduate said that everyone has been trying to do their part in changing the narrative.

“Physically, it’s been tough for guys,” Hoover said. “I live by myself off campus and have no weight room and just a couple of 10-pound dumbbells. You try and do the best with what you have. However, mentally, it’s been really good keeping in contact every day with teammates. I feel that we are closer as a team.”

EIU football coach Adam Cushing broke the team up into groups to learn about EIU sports history. That includes learning about former players, coaches, and reaching out to alumni.

“Something Cushing has done that was cool was put us in groups with guys who aren’t in our position groups,” said Hoover. “He had us learn about EIU traditions, coaches, players, and reach out to some of the older guys. We talked about guys like Bob Spoo, Roy Witke, and Jaimie Pilson. There were other guys like Tim Kelly, who is the offensive coordinator for the Texans. The last two seasons have been rough, and it’s about changing the culture and making sure guys know this isn’t just some ordinary school. EIU has some real, rich tradition.”

During these conversations, someone still has to keep the mood light. According to Hoover, that’s Central A&M’s Jerrit Medler.

“All of us have our moments, but Medler is our go-to funny guy,” said Hoover. “He is just very funny all the time.”

Laughs in the meetings are fine, but Hoover said the team wants to shake off the notion that EIU is a laughingstock. After finishing 6-5 in 2017, the Panthers have featured two straight losing seasons, including 3-8 in 2018.

“Teamwise, we want to do better in conference and just overall,” said Hoover. “We don’t want anyone to think we are a laughingstock or a pushover. We want to be a team that others fear to play. We want to show teams like Indiana State and Illinois State, and teams in the conference that last year was a fluke.”

Hoover played in all 12 games last season, seeing time at several different positions on the offensive line. That included starts at right tackle, left tackle, and center. He finished the season with 10 starts altogether.

The redshirt-senior is one of 13 seniors, but one of three upperclassmen on the offensive line. According to Hoover, the line has been trying to build chemistry through Zoom or social media even though they can’t gell on the football field.

“Just being in different states, we have been really hanging out on Zoom and communicating on Snapchat, so we can get closer as a unit,” said Hoover. “When we get on the field, we will be able to learn a lot more.”

Hoover knows that anything can change at any day, but players were able to report on July 12th. Hoover is hopeful that football will resume in the fall, instead of the spring which has been rumored by major media outlets. 

As of now, Hoover is schedule to begin student teaching in the spring. Hoover has been taking graduate classes after finishing his bachelor’s degree in special education. His placement is up in the air, but if EIU does have a fall football season, there is one element that he wants to control.

“I’m going to be the best teammate I can possibly be,” said Hoover. “I want to leave the EIU better than I found it. This is going to be a testing year, but Coach (Dan) Hernandez, our line coach, has been doing a great job of holding everyone accountable. He’s making sure we are all in meetings, keeping up with conversations with each other, and making this as enjoyable as it can be.”

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