Cole Madison started his WSU football career as a receiver. Five years later, the big man the Cougars call "Moose" has become one of the top offensive tackles in his class.
At 6 feet 5 and 314 pounds with a thick frame and long, curly dark blond hair that sticks out the bottom of his helmet, the man known to 25th-ranked Washington State as “Moose” is a distinctive figure on the football field.
Whether he’s fending off defensive ends or standing on the sideline with his helmet off, Cole Madison makes his presence known, and he’s been doing it for quite a while.
When Madison gets in his stance on WSU’s opening offensive drive Saturday on Senior Day against No. 18 Stanford, he will start his 44th career game at right tackle – and his 36th in a row. He’s WSU’s most experienced player.
Senior linebacker Peyton Pelluer is next with 34 career starts, but Pelluer’s streak ended in September when he suffered a season-ending injury against Oregon State.
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Yet, even though Madison has been a steady force at right tackle since his redshirt-freshman year in 2014, he has, until now, been overshadowed by other linemen.
Left tackle Joe Dahl, the Detroit Lions’ fifth-round selection in the 2016 NFL draft, was the star of WSU’s offensive line in 2015.
In 2016, Madison finished his junior year as a Pro Football Focus second-team All-American, and an All-Pac-12 honorable-mention selection, but left guard Cody “The Continent” O’Connell became the face of the Cougars’ O-line with his remarkable rise, from unknown backup to unanimous All-American and Outland Trophy finalist.
That doesn’t bother Madison.
“I was (the underdog) in high school,” says Madison, a Seattle native and Kennedy Catholic High School alum. “That’s how I like to play. I play with a little chip on my shoulder, and it doesn’t bug me at all.”
Madison was lightly recruited out of high school. He switched from offensive line to tight end before his junior year, and with the athleticism that made him a four-year basketball letter-winner as Kennedy’s center, he distinguished himself as a tight end even though Kennedy didn’t throw much.
With modest stats, Madison didn’t receive much interest. Idaho offered a scholarship, and Boise State coaches liked what they saw but said they had a tight end for that recruiting class.
The Cougars, however, recruited Madison as an athlete – unusual for a 6-5, 240-pound player. And it wasn’t just lip service. At WSU’s camp, Madison worked out with the receivers, the offensive linemen and defensive linemen.
Madison signed with WSU because he liked the coaches, wanted to help turn the program around and was drawn to WSU’s rural surroundings. He is an avid outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing with his father.
“Looking around when I came here, I (realized), ‘Oh, I’ll have the opportunity to be a little outdoorsy,’ ” Madison said. “I love that.”
Extroverted enough that he’s become the vocal leader of the offensive line, Madison also has an introspective side he refuels via hunting trips on Mondays when the team is off.
“It’s active recovery,” Madison says, smiling. “Getting out and walking around Albion. Hunting is kind of a getaway for me. If I’m having any type of a mental thing and I need a break, I just go out by myself.”
He’s been out several times this fall but has come up empty-handed. Last season proved more lucrative on the hunting front. Madison shot a deer, then nabbed his first turkey a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. (The bird didn’t make it to the Thanksgiving dinner table – Madison and his offensive-line roommates, Andre Dillard and Mack Hopkins, devoured it the next day.)
Still, hunting is not just about scoring a kill, Madison says. He enjoys being by himself in the quiet of the pre-dawn hour, soaking up the beauty of his surroundings.
“I love being outside, just getting away from everything and getting away from my phone,” Madison says. “Or, the best feeling of the day is when you’re out there for six hours, and you’re walking around, going up and down the hills. Then, you’re sitting there, and right as the sun is going down, you see the perfect buck, or elk, or whatever just walk out of the woods. That moment is one of the greatest feelings I’ll ever have in my entire life.”
The Palouse has been good to Madison the past five years.
The high school tight end started his first fall camp with WSU’s receivers and held his own alongside smaller, defter pass catchers. But when the coaches told him he’d get on the field quicker if he moved to offensive line, Madison was sold.
Madison’s rare combination of athleticism, size and physicality – his catch phrase is “play nasty” – got him on the field early. He took second team reps as a freshman and earned the starting right-tackle spot before his redshirt freshman year. He’s never relinquished it.
Even though Dahl and O’Connell have stolen the spotlight, Madison has quietly put together a stellar college career that could earn him a ticket to the NFL.
All-Conference and All-American accolades are “something that we can’t control. It’s more media-driven,” offensive-line coach Clay McGuire says. “But (Madison’s contributions) don’t go unnoticed here in the program.”
“Cole has played really well. He’s been the most consistent guy we’ve had this season, and he’ll finish his career as a guy with one of the most snaps ever here,” McGuire said. “You look at this senior class we have and all they’ve done, he’s one of the rocks this program was built on, and one of the cornerstones of that class of seniors.”
This season, Madison has won the Bone Award, which WSU’s coaching staff gives to the best offensive lineman every week, three times and has seven Bone Awards overall.
Others are starting to notice.
Madison began his senior season rated by Pro Football Focus as the nation’s highest-graded offensive tackle. Per PFF, Madison allowed only two sacks in 648 regular-season pass-block snaps last year and was the best returning pass-blocking tackle in the Pac-12. Through nine games this year, PFF lists Madison as the country’s top-graded offensive tackle, and the top-graded pass blocker and Madison has allowed three sacks, 0 QB hits and five hurries on 554 pass blocking snaps.
He also leads all Cougars’ offensive players with four nominations to Pro Football Focus’ weekly All-Pac-12 teams this season.
“Cole doesn’t give up a lot of stuff, and he’s out there on every snap in one of the best conferences in college football,” McGuire says. “He’s a talented kid. He’s really tough and very competitive. He’s been a great leader for us on and off the field, and has been a great representative of this program.
“I know Cole will have a chance to continue to play this game as long as he does everything he’s supposed to be doing.”