• The Jaguars receiver’s incredible catch hasn’t launched him to stardom (yet) the way Odell Beckham Jr.’s famous catch did, but it did gain enough attention to warrant a wardrobe adjustment at halftime.
By Jonathan Jones
September 19, 2018

Keelan Cole raced down the sideline with his arms pumping and his eyes widening. Patriots CB Eric Rowe took that as a sign the ball was in the air, and he turned around at 35-yard line to locate it.

With his back to the sideline, Cole extended his right hand into the 97-degree Jacksonville air. He didn’t catch the pass from Blake Bortles so much as the ball entered into his hand, and it remained there, stuck, even as Rowe tried to swat it away. Cole curled his arm to cradle the ball, then tucked himself into a tumble.

It is far and away the catch of the year so far, coming in the Jaguars’ 31–20 win against the Patriots in Week 2. Cole, who led Jacksonville in receiving yards last season, said after the game that all he did was run the route, turn and react to the ball being in the air.

A day later, could he offer up any more details?

“That’s all it really was. There was nothing planned about it,” Cole says, politely acknowledging he’s letting this reporter and the readers down. “It was all reaction and trust.”

Nowadays every one-handed catch at any level must be soon followed by an Odell Beckham Jr. comparison. In 2014, the then-rookie’s one-handed touchdown catch launched the first-round pick to stardom, so much that had Beckham retired the next day, his legacy would still be cemented thanks to that catch.

Celebrity hasn’t come as swiftly for Cole, as the only thing that’s changed, so far, for the Jags’ receiver is that he was asked—nay, required—to color in his white Jordan logo on his cleats at halftime of the game. Though he’s a Nike athlete, Cole isn’t a Jordan Brand athlete, so he can’t wear Js on the field on gamedays. An equipment guy told him he needed to find a black Sharpie before heading out for the third quarter.

“I’ve been trying to get me some Jordan clout since college. Dang. They’re so comfortable,” Cole says and repeats in a not-so-subtle hint that he wishes to be a Jordan Brand athlete. “I wore them last game and they didn’t say anything. But I make a catch and it’s on TV, and I guess it’s a big problem.”

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Being humbled like that after making the catch of your life against the greatest NFL dynasty of your lifetime aside, that Cole is even in this position is impressive by itself. He made the Jaguars roster as the last receiver after going undrafted out of Kentucky Wesleyan. He didn’t get a combine invitation. He never got a full scholarship offer out of high school.

Hell, he hardly played high school football at all. At just 5' 8" and 120 pounds his senior year of high school, Cole says he was the placeholder, and if he ever saw meaningful snaps, it was as the backup zone corner. “Anything dealing with tackling and blitzing, that wasn’t me,” Cole says.

He finally hit a growth spurt after football season, and by the time he arrived at Kentucky Wesleyan, he had grown five inches and gained 30 pounds. Still, he redshirted that season, put on some weight and switched to receiver.

After a modest redshirt sophomore season with 53 receptions for 549 yards, Cole exploded onto the scene, racking up at least 1,300 receiving yards in each of his final three seasons. The AP named him a Little All-America first teamer his senior season when he averaged 198.1 all-purpose yards per game.

Cole was one of 16 undrafted free agents to sign with the Jaguars after the 2017 draft, and he was the only one of the bunch to make the final squad.

“It was a chance. That’s what kept me fighting,” says Cole, who has ample confidence but no discernable bravado. “That’s all I needed was a chance and I was just going to keep working until that chance told me there was no chance. I just kept working for what I wanted to do and made the right steps in my life in order for that to happen.”

A receiver who made his name off slants and go routes, Cole had to quickly get a better grasp of the route tree (the curl was particularly difficult for him). He got consistent playing time but began the year slowly until December rolled around. In five games that month, Cole caught 23 passes for 475 yards and three touchdowns, and his 748 receiving yards on the season edged out Marqise Lee for the team high. This offseason he trained with former Jaguar Allen Hurns and other veterans in south Florida, returning to Jacksonville ready to top his rookie year. So far his 170 yards on 10 catches already leads these Jaguars.

After his Cole talked to NFL Network’s Deion Sanders in the locker room after making a potentially life-altering catch, then went home to rest and mostly stayed off his phone. He’s not big on TV or social media (he still has his college highlight video tagged on his Twitter page), but he did retweet the video and posted a photo of the catch on Instagram.

As for any plans on turning that photo into an actual poster for his home…

“I’m not, but if somebody was nice enough to do it then I’d take it for sure,” Cole says. “I’ll take the lazy way out.”

That’d be a first.

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