Today, Cole Holcomb is known on the Washington Football Team for his leadership, the way he brings energy to every practice and a luscious head of hair.
But there was a time where the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker looked a little -- actually, a lot -- different. He wasn't even a linebacker, and he certainly didn't have a mullet.
Long before Holcomb was a walk-on at the University of North Carolina and making a name for himself, he was an undersized safety at New Smyrna Beach High School in Florida. He was the annoying fly, as he put it; the player who always made the shoestring tackle that saved a touchdown.
He did eventually inch closer to the player he is today, but he first he had to go through a senior year "glow up."
"They didn't recognize me," Holcomb told Tress Way on the most-recent episode of the "Hang Time" podcast.
It made sense that Holcomb was tagged as a safety at high school under head coach Lance Jenkins. He was a 5-foot-6, 110-pound freshman, but he was quick, he tackled well and New Smyrna Beach played all triple option teams. And that's the way it went for Holcomb until the end of his junior year.
On the last day of school, the offensive coordinator's son and a friend came in late to a meeting. Not only were they late, but Holcomb said they were "strolling in" like it wasn't a big deal. The head coach was so furious that he made Holcomb and the rest of his class run three miles before kicking them off the team for the summer.
Holcomb was obviously upset that he was being punished for what someone else did, so he didn't see his friend for the entire summer. Then, Holcomb's growth spurt came. He went from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-1 and packed on 45 pounds. On top of that, he shaved his head (for those wondering, Holcomb said he had a full Justin Bieber hairstyle).
When Holcomb and the rest of the juniors -- now seniors -- came back from the summer, one of Holcomb's best friends, who he's known since he was 5 years old, actually introduced himself to Holcomb thinking that he was a new student.
"I'm like, 'Cliff, bro, it's me. It's Cole,'" Holcomb said. "I've always been the smallest one of that group, because I was always younger than everybody."
The extra size helped Holcomb stand out even more, but it still wasn't enough to help him earn a scholarship. He had to be a walk-on for the Tar Heels, and he didn't get an opportunity until a new defensive coaching was brought in. A player's shoe came off during practice, two days before the spring game, and Holcomb immediately ran in to take his place.
"I didn't even hesitate. I was like, 'I'm going in,'" Holcomb said. "I had three TFLs, a PBU and a sack in the five plays I got."
Fast forward a few years, and now Holcomb is one of Washington's starting linebackers and is 11th in the NFL with 73 tackles. None of that would have happened if Holcomb hadn't completely transformed in high school. Naturally, Washington is pretty happy about that.
"He's kind of taken his game and really raised it,"
Ron Rivera said during training camp. "And that's one of the really nice things to see, especially with a guy with his abilities and his talent. He's got a terrific skillset."
For more of Way's sit down with Holcomb, check out the "Hang Time" podcast.