Madison’s path from Coug WR to starting RT

PULLMAN — As WSU strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo so eloquently says, you can’t spell Cole without “OL." But when Cole Madison came to Washington State in 2013, he got his first look playing inside receiver, not offensive line. Considering that he now weighs 300 pounds and is slated to be the Cougs' starting right tackle this season, the notion of him catching balls is amusing.

His path from aspiring slot receiver to starting offensive lineman wasn't without its bumps. But the most unusual part of the story is how quickly Madison made the position transition.

Recruited as an "athlete" by the WSU coaching staff -- they knew he could play multiple positions given his high school exploits on the offensive and defensive lines and at tight end.

After only a few days in camp, the coaches switched Madison to the OL, despite some early success at the wide receiver position.

“With what we do, he doesn’t really fit the inside receiver mold,” offensive line coach Clay McGuire said. “We knew, recruiting him, that he was going to be a 6-6, 300-pound tackle. We knew what he was going to be, and that’s just part of recruiting kids like that. They’ve got great frames, and able to put weight on, and now you have a not-very-athletic tight end to a really athletic tackle.”

Loscalzo knew it, too, when he began working with Madison.

“He’s got the frame, No. 1, he’s got the metabolism for it, and he just had the body for it,” Loscalzo said. “You look at that kid and you know this kid is not a wide receiver.”

When Madison arrived at WSU, he weighed about 250 pounds, significantly below the 292-pound average of the WSU offensive line last year.

Needless to say, Madison needed to put on some serious weight, and accepted the challenge. He said he drank plenty of protein shakes, ate a ton in general, and spent lots of time in the weight room. With that formula, he emerged as a 300-pounder on a line that now averages more than 300 pounds per man.

While Loscalzo and McGuire agree that Madison added the necessary weight at a fast rate, the process was not completely smooth for the young lineman. The fundamentals of the position came easily for Madison, but keeping the weight on his body was a struggle at times. As Madison worked his way up to the 285-290 mark, he hit a plateau that prevented him from surpassing that mark. He said he would gain a lot of weight and then lose 10 pounds in a week, and it wasn’t until he finally hit 290 pounds that he was able to add the extra weight to reach the size he is now.

“He hit a plateau, like a lot of young guys do. It just happens,” Loscalzo said. “You’ve just got to work through it, you’ve got to keep fighting through it. The kid’s a hard-working kid.”

The opportunity to redshirt Madison was critical to the transition because it gave the young athlete time to not only adjust to the position but to gain the weight required to hold down that spot and still remain athletic enough.

“The redshirt season was probably the best decision the coaches made for me was to redshirt me,” Madison said. “I gained some weight, got some experience against our defensive linemen on the scout team offense, so it was perfect.”

“If he wouldn’t have gotten those reps, he wouldn’t be able to play where he is right now,” McGuire said. “Since he did get those reps, he probably got 1,000 reps in our Thursday Night Football, and using him on the scout team and things like that. He’s gotten a ton of reps, and had he been playing receiver the whole time, he wouldn’t have been ready to play.”

McGuire spent extra time outside of practice to teach Madison the ropes, and Madison was very appreciative for what his coach did for him, even though McGuire was tough on him at times. “It’s good because he cares about you and expects more from you, which is good and makes you feel better as a player,” Madison said.

It’s all paid off with a little more than a week to go before the Cougars square off against Rutgers on Aug. 28 -- Madison this fall camp has held an iron grip on the starting right tackle position from Day 1 despite being a second-year freshman.

“It was my dream to play as quickly as possible, and I worked as hard as I could and made it happen. I’m pretty proud of it,” Madison said.

And although the offensive line isn’t as glamorous a position as is wide receiver, Madison embraces his role on the team.

“We’re the underdogs. We’re behind the scenes, and we get it done,” Madison said. “Everyone else gets the love but deep down, everyone knows that without us, they couldn’t get it done so it’s good to think that. I’m an unsung hero.”

The next step is for Madison to become more muscular. Loscalzo said Madison is slightly above average for his age in his hips, legs and low back, which are the most important areas of the body for an offensive lineman. Yet, with room to improve, youth is on his side, and so is his work ethic.

“It keeps going back to, sometimes I have to remind myself how young he is,” Loscalzo said. “I keep thinking this guy is a grizzled veteran because he’s a great football player. He moves well. He can move some decent weight but we definitely have to get him stronger and he’ll get stronger as he matures. He’s a hard-working kid, there’s going to be no issues there.”

McGuire agrees that Madison can add more muscle with age, but he said the young lineman looks good right now. In the skill department, McGuire regards him highly and thinks of him as a strong asset for the starting offensive line.

“When he plays up to his potential, and plays up to his level, he can be one of the best ones, if not the best,” McGuire said.

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