Oshkosh West football coach Ken Levine told a story that basically sums up what football means for his star senior Cole Yoder.
Before last Friday’s game, Yoder had the last words to the team before they ran out for their game against Kaukauna.
His words weren’t some eloquent speech or prepared statement. Rather it was a short, emphatic declaration: “I live for this.”
“Everybody knew he meant it. Everybody took it very seriously,” Levine said. “That’s all he needed to say.”
And it shows everytime Yoder hits the football field. The Wildcats’ standout two-way player plays with a passion and love for the game that has made him one of the top players in the Fox Valley Association the past few seasons.
He wasn’t always at the top, though. He admits his first time out on a varsity playing field was a nervewracking experience.
“I was so freaked out,” Yoder said. “But I knew everyone else out there believed in me. So I just did my role.”
Those nerves quickly subsided and he turned into one of the top defensive backs in the area, collecting Defensive Back of the Year honors as a junior in the FVA.
This season, he enters on the watch list of the Leonard Award, given to the state’s top defensive back.
Levine is sure appreciative that he has Yoder back there on his defense.
“It just gives you a lot confidence and a little reassurance,” Levine said. “It makes it a little easier to sleep at night.”
What set’s Yoder apart from other defensive backs is the little things. Sure, he has the knack for making the big play — he had an interception on Friday and could’ve had another but it was called back on a penalty away from the play.
But it’s those little plays, such as knowing when to go for the knockdown instead of an interception or breaking down and stopping a receiver short of a first down, that Yoder makes on a regular basis. And it makes it tough for any team to throw his way.
“All of the little things mean the most,” Yoder said. “You just have to make sure of which one you have to do. You just have to think things through.”
Levine described Yoder’s play on defense as having an “it” factor to it.
“He’s just one of those kids that they talk about ‘it,’ and he’s got ‘it,'” he said. “He understands the game, he sees the flow of the game. Things happen a lot slower for him. He’s just instinctive like that.”
Yoder’s specialty is on defense, but he’s almost as good on the offensive side of the ball. As a running back, Yoder has been one the more explosive Wildcats during his tenure.
He proved that on Friday, rushing for two touchdowns and catching another in West’s win over Kaukauna.
Really, it doesn’t matter to him if he’s on offense or defense. It comes down to just wanting to be on the field.
“I just love the game,” he said. “I love being on the field. It really doesn’t matter.”
But that is a tough position for Levine to be in. He would love to play Yoder every down on both sides, but he also knows he has to keep him fresh to get the most out of him.
“We try to pick spots where we can rest him,” Levine said. “But he’s never off the field for very long. He never wants to come off the field but we know and he knows that he does need to.
“But it’s tough. Offensive and defensive sides of the ball argue where Cole is going to rest.”
Yoder is also a standout wrestler for the Wildcats, making it to the WIAA State Individual Meet as a junior last season at 145 pounds.
But his passion is on the football field. And with the Wildcats hoping to prove the pundits wrong and make the playoffs, he hopes that he can help West get the job done.
“I definitely hope we make it to the playoffs,” Yoder said. “I hope we have a winning record. That’s the goal.”