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Opportunity knocks; Cole answers

Cornerback Reggie Cole (44) is making the most of his XFL opportunity.

HOUSTON -- Home-cooked meals from mom are definitely a plus.

So is dad sitting in the stands at practice.

There’s no doubt Reggie Cole is basking in the familiar during training camp with the DC Defenders in his hometown of Houston. As for camp itself, it’s all new.

And then again, it’s not. It’s football and, for Cole, it’s been a blast so far.

“It’s been real fun,” Cole said Thursday after the morning session of two-a-days at Rice Stadium. “A lot of intensity, a lot of competition and that’s what I expect.”

The Defenders play the first game of 2020 XFL season on Feb. 8 against the Seattle Dragons (2 p.m. ET, ABC) at Audi Field.

Cole can be considered by some a test case for kind of player given a shot by the XFL. Small school, little fanfare, big talent.

The 6-foot-2 cornerback from Mary Hardin-Baylor in the central Texas town of Belton was a star in college, but that was at the Division III level. D-III student-athletes don’t receive athletic scholarships and though Cole earned second-team All-America honors as a senior and was part of two national championship teams, pro scouts weren’t banging down his door.

“I see the XFL as getting players that don’t have the opportunity to go to the NFL and to give them an opportunity to get to the NFL,” he said. “That’s what the XFL really wants to do.”

"I don’t think it matters what school a guy came from. I think it’s all about taking advantage of this opportunity. This is an opportunity to continue playing the game that you’ve played your whole entire life for pay."

Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton

The Defenders took Cole in the sixth round of the defensive back phase of the XFL Draft in October. What they’ve seen so far is a physical rookie not afraid to mix it up.

“Very competitive,” Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton said. “A big corner that can make plays on the ball.”

Hamilton isn’t concerned with the circumstances or backgrounds of his players. Not that he doesn’t care -- his feelings were evident in a post-practice address to the team after a scuffle nearly got out of hand -- but once they’re on the field, it’s about production and professionalism.

Cole has earned his way on DC’s field.

“I don’t think it matters what school a guy came from,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s all about taking advantage of this opportunity. This is an opportunity to continue playing the game that you’ve played your whole entire life for pay.”

The speed and physicality of the XFL game has been an adjustment. Cole knows he can’t get by on just natural ability against men who have always been among the best at their positions.

“From where I’m from, it’s a big step up from D-III,” he said. “But we all put our pants on the same way.”

Cole has been soaking in as much as possible during since arriving at minicamp last month. The defensive staff, including coordinator Jeff FitzGerald and secondary coach Louie Cioffi, have shown great confidence in the 22-year-old Texan.

Teammate and former NFL first-round pick Matt Elam has taken a shine to Cole, passing along advice and recognizing his talent.

“Reggie is good,” Elam said. “Fresh out of college, it seems like he’s been playing professional for a while. He knows what he’s doing. He works his technique all the time. He’s focused. You can see he really wants to take it to the next level.

“He gets better every day. Consistency is important in the pros. I feel like does that well. And he’s a scrapper. He don’t back down from nothing. I respect Reggie a lot.”

Cole couldn’t ask for a better homecoming, with family and friends around, plus doing what he loves.

“The experience is great,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me coming from where I come from, just to have this opportunity is a blessing and I’m taking full advantage of it.”

Much like being home, flying under the radar suits Cole just fine. He’s been in this situation before and come through.

“I have full confidence,” he said. “I know I belong here. I work hard just like everybody else. I belong here.”