Every year, it seems at least one small-school prospect takes full advantage of Senior Bowl week, proving they can compete with some of the best players college football has to offer down in Mobile, Alabama. One of this year’s biggest winners in that category is Chattanooga's Cole Strange, a versatile and physical offensive lineman who undeniably boosted his draft stock while taking full advantage of the week-long process. Strange recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his experiences in Mobile, which teams he met with, which defensive linemen he enjoyed practicing against, his versatility as an offensive lineman that's played multiple positions, his aggressive willingness to play through the whistle, and so much more. JM: You returned to Chattanooga as a fifth-year senior in 2021 by opting to utilize your COVID exception for a sixth year of eligibility. Why did you make that decision? CS: Honestly, it wasn’t much of a decision to make at the time. At that time, I didn’t really feel like I was on the NFL’s radar. I hadn’t heard much from potential agents, scouts, or anything like that. I sat down with our coaching staff and had an honest conversation. I went seeking advice and I appreciated that our staff didn’t try to give me an opinion regarding what they thought I should do. They told me that another year of collegiate football would probably do me good and they were absolutely right about that. I agreed with their overall assessment and made the decision to return. It wasn’t a big decision and I’m glad I made it. JM: It certainly paid off. You’ve improved your draft stock and you continue to do so currently. You had a fantastic Senior Bowl by all accounts. You really boosted your draft stock in Mobile. What was the experience like? CS: That experience went really well for me. I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak with all 32 teams in attendance. It gave me a chance to speak with scouts and coaches from every single team. I played for the New York Jets coaching staff and I had some terrific meetings and experiences with them. The event also gave me a chance to practice against some top-level competition. I loved my time out there. JM: You stole the show in Mobile. You met with all 32 teams throughout the week. What were those meetings like, and did you feel like any of them stood out in particular? CS: I’ll probably get a better feel for that at the combine. I’m expecting a similar environment that allows me to meet with all of the teams face-to-face for a second time. There were a few teams that spent more time with me than others. Scouts from the Baltimore Ravens requested a second meeting with me to follow up on our initial discussion. I felt like I had a great connection with the Seattle Seahawks as well, among others. I feel like all of my interviews went well. I didn’t come away from any interviews or meetings thinking that it didn’t go well. I got along with every scout and team. JM: There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. You were an excellent performer in Mobile. How important was that strong showing against high-level competition at the Senior Bowl for a “small school” guy such as yourself? CS: I do think it’s probably a bigger deal for a prospect coming from an FCS program. Anyone that played for a Power 5 or Group of 5 conference team, all of those guys are playing high-level competition on a more consistent basis. That’s just the honest truth. Those prospects were used to the competition they encountered at the Senior Bowl. It was nothing new for them. For me, we only get one FBS team a year at Chattanooga. Being able to practice against those guys all week long at the Senior Bowl, and then to play against them in the actual game, I felt like it was a huge opportunity for an FCS guy such as myself. JM: That’s a great point. You’ll be labeled a “small-school guy” throughout the process. How do you typically respond? CS: I don’t really think much about it (laughs). I played at an FCS D-I program. I don’t really get offended by that label. I don’t get much offended by much, period. People want to call me a smaller-school prospect? Sure, I get it. In regards to playing ability or general potential, I’ve never felt that way. I don’t let it define me. I think my film speaks for itself. I don’t worry about it at the end of the day. JM: That’s the right way to handle that. You love to finish. That was a consistent theme throughout your practices at the Senior Bowl, and on film as well. You play through the whistle. How did you develop that demeanor? CS: I’ve always tried to play through the whistle. I played on the defensive line in high school. When I first started playing offensive line at Chattanooga during my freshman year, it was all new to me. It’s not like I didn’t hustle in high school. I was already playing through the whistle as an aggressive finisher. When I made the switch to offensive line, I was undersized and hadn’t fully grasped the technique yet. It was new to me. Playing through the whistle was all I had in my repertoire at the time (laughs). As I further developed as an offensive lineman, I started noticing that playing through the whistle was as good of a quality as any (laughs). That was made clear to me. Teams love guys that play fast, hard and aggressive. As far as size and technique goes, as long as there’s potential for size to be gained and for technique to be learned, you’re going to be alright in those departments. You can’t teach somebody to play hard and through the whistle. You have to “want to” do that. Everything else can be coached up or fixed one way or another. JM: I love that answer and point of view. Who were some of your favorite defensive linemen to practice against and compete with throughout Senior Bowl practices? CS: I feel like I went against Travis Jones the most. He’s a defensive lineman out of UCONN. I played center all week along at the Senior Bowl. He’s a nose tackle, so naturally, we lined up against one another on a pretty consistent basis. I probably squared off with him more frequently than anything else. He’s a big guy and I enjoyed competing with him. He’s going to be a good player. JM: That sort of brings me to my next question. You played left guard, left tackle, and center throughout your time at Chattanooga. What position do you see yourself playing at the next level? Talk me through the importance of that sort of versatility. CS: I’ve heard all kinds of chatter. I feel like I’ve heard people say they project me as a center at the next level more than anything else. I’ve also had teams tell me they see me playing guard for them. I know for a fact that what’s important for me right now is for me to be able to play both positions. There’s a depth aspect to it. For example, NFL teams typically only carry seven or eight offensive linemen on game day. If you have a guy that can play both center and the guard positions, and another guy that can play both tackle spots, then your team only needs to carry seven active offensive linemen. They love that because it allows them to use another spot elsewhere. Versatility is key. It’s very valuable to be able to play multiple positions. As far as where I think I’m going to play, I don’t have a clue (laughs). It depends on who drafts me. Some teams have straight up told me they see me at center, and other teams see me at guard. I’m good with whatever. JM: That makes sense. I’ve really appreciated your time today. What kind of impact is Cole Strange going to make at the next level? CS: For whichever team drafts me, I know for a fact that I’m going to add to the culture of toughness and physicality because I love to play hard. If that’s already part of the culture there, I’m going to add to it. If there’s a problem with the culture not being that way, then I know for a fact I’m going to help us get there. I’m going to lend a hand to change that. That’s the way football should be played.
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