Trae Cole’s life is celebrated at Callaway Stadium
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
On a pristine Friday afternoon at Callaway Stadium, those who knew and loved Trae Cole gathered to say goodbye.
Cole, a junior member of the LaGrange High football team, was killed in a car wreck last week, and a memorial service in his honor was held at Callaway Stadium on a cloudless, pleasant November day at Callaway Stadium.
Cole’s teammates and coaches were in attendance, as were the grieving members of his family, including his mother Breanda Dowell.
Among the speakers was LaGrange High head coach Matt Napier, as well as LaGrange defensive coordinator Burton Thomas.
Former LaGrange football great Travis Hart offered a prayer on Cole’s behalf, there were stirring and emotional musical numbers, Cole’s mother read a poem she wrote for her son, and pastor Michael Jackson closed the service with a heart-felt message.
Napier, who has known Cole since he was a freshman at Callaway High, recalled a young man who was loved and appreciated by all who knew him.
“The love that these young men had for their teammate and their brother is unequaled,” Napier said. “We loved Trae, we loved everything about him. He played the game the way the game was supposed to be played. He played with unbelievable effort. You turn the film on and you see it. When we say play like Trae, that’s what we’re talking about. It wasn’t just his effort. It wasn’t just how he played. It was that personality that he had. Everybody wanted to be around him. He was the kind of guy you gravitated toward him.”
When Napier was the offensive coordinator at Callaway, Cole was a freshman, and the two got to know each other during that 2017 season.
“He’d continue to get hit and get back up, and get hit and get back up, and come back with the same energy,” Napier said. “He embraced a challenge. He had the toughness that it took to play this game, a toughness to live life.”
Cole transferred to LaGrange High for the 2019 season, and Napier arrived at the school as the new head coach earlier this year.
Napier’s appreciation for Cole, not only as a football player but as a person, only grew as he got to know him more.
“We all desire to live that type of life, the type of life that Trae lived,” Napier said. “He made the type of impact we all want to make, and he did so all the way until it was time for him to be with the Lord.”
The day that Cole died, in fact, he sent a text message to one of his teammates, Caleb Ross, who’d just undergone knee surgery.
Matt Neighbors, LaGrange’s running-backs coach, shared that message with Napier.
“Coach Neighbors showed me a message from Trae that he sent to one of his teammates that I truly believe shows his character and his heart,” Napier said. “Caleb Ross is a senior on our football team that has been going through unbelievable adversity this year. He tore his ACL in our second game of the season. Last Thursday, the day Trae passed, Caleb had surgery on his knee. The message he sent was, hang in there. God has a plan for his biggest warrior. You’ll bounce back. Seeing that message that Trae sent made my heart burst with joy. Trae knew the Lord. He trusted him in tough times.”
Napier added that Cole was “full of life and love, positive energy and enthusiasm.”
Napier said that the opportunity to be around student-athletes like Cole is “why as coaches we get into coaching. It’s why we chose this path.”
Thomas joined LaGrange’s staff this season as the defensive coordinator, and he vividly recalls his introduction to Cole.
“When I first took the job at LaGrange, I wanted to get to know the players, and see what the future looks like here at LaGrange,” Thomas said. “The first game I turned on from last year was a (junior-varsity) game against Smiths Station, played right here at this field. A few plays in, I see a kid run across this field with everything he had, and he made an open-field tackle that was beautiful. I said oh my goodness. I called coach Napier and said who is this kid playing free safety? He said that’s Trae Cole.”
Cole, Thomas said, “had a passion and an effort that was unmatched. I knew that he was a baller, a great player. In the next few months, I got to know Trae, and I found out he’s more than just a baller. Trae Cole was a special, special kid. Trae was the kind of kid that could light up a room with his smile. He had an infectious smile.
“Everyone sitting in this stadium knows what I’m talking about. You’ve seen it. He was such a good kid. The impact that he made on me is tremendous, and I know a lot of you feel the exact same way.”