RALEIGH — Audie Cole was going to play in Saturday's football game between N.C. State and Central Michigan, one way or another.
A senior linebacker for N.C. State, Cole originally committed to the Chippewas program five years ago out of high school in Monroe, Mich.
Brian Kelly, now the head coach at Notre Dame, had recruited Cole, who has developed into the Wolfpack's top linebacker and tackler, to play quarterback for CMU.
Cole at quarterback? The 6-foot-5 lefty can still sling it, he insisted recently, but it's difficult to picture the defensive fixture on offense.
"I think I would have been alright," Cole said.
Quarterback or linebacker, either way, Cole is looking forward to State's final nonconference game of the season (3:30 p.m. Saturday, Carter-Finley Stadium).
"Everyone I know goes to Central Michigan, so it's going to be fun," Cole said.
Cole and the Wolfpack need a win to even their record at 3-3 and get back on track for bowl eligibility.
With the defense short four defensive linemen, as well as injured linebacker Terrell Manning, Cole has been trying to hold the pieces together.
But the Wolfpack has given up 89 points in the last two games, and Cole has been trying to make the best of a difficult situation.
He had 16 tackles in N.C. State's 45-35 loss to Georgia Tech last Saturday and leads the team with 61 tackles and three sacks.
Cole said after Saturday's loss that N.C. State's defense was starting to play with more enthusiasm and show promise, but it has to limit the big plays.
"We've got to get better and not hurt ourselves," Cole said.
Cole's role has expanded as a senior. He moved into the middle - or "mike" - linebacker spot, replacing Nate Irving in the spring.
Defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy usually handles the talking on defense, but Sweezy missed the first four games with a foot injury, leaving Cole to fill the leadership void.
It was a new task for the easygoing Cole, but Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien said that Cole has done a good job of making the adjustment.
"He has to get us lined up and get us going in right direction," O'Brien said. "That has been a task with an ever-changing cast in front of him."
O'Brien said Cole has been a "calming voice" on defense. But Cole almost didn't make it at linebacker. A running quarterback in high school, he redshirted the 2007 season, learning how to play defense.
"I wasn't any good at linebacker," Cole said before the season. "I was always making mistakes."
He learned on the job, playing on the outside in 2009 while Irving missed the entire season recovering from injuries he sustained in a car crash that summer.
Cole led the Wolfpack in tackles in 2009 with 85, and again last season, tying Irving with 97.
He played the second half of last season with a broken right thumb. He had a cast on his hand for three months but played through the pain.
He has been one of the few constants on the Wolfpack defense this season. Sweezy came back against Georgia Tech, and O'Brien hopes to have Manning and some of the defensive linemen, if not all four, back for the Virginia game on Oct. 22.
Cole, who is on track to graduate in December, is trying to make the best of his final season. He'd like to get an opportunity to play in the NFL, but he said he's keeping his career options open.
"I don't think of it much," Cole said of his future. "I just kind of take things how they come."
That kind of approach has served him well in a season that hasn't gone as expected.
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