ORONO — University of Maine wide receiver John Ebeling sprinted off the line of scrimmage, threw a head fake at a safety, planted his outside foot and ?tweeeeet!

Not again.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Ebeling of his fellow senior teammate, defensive end Michael Cole. “At least three times a practice the whistle is getting blown before we’re even into our route because he’s gotten a sack. It’s unbelievable how fast he can get to the quarterback.”

Ask someone from Boston College, against whom Cole notched two sacks and forced a fumble in last year’s season opener.

Or someone from Delaware, which saw Cole tackle the quarterback five times and force another fumble in a 26-3 Maine victory.

“My picture of Mike is that he is just relentless,” Black Bears head coach Jack Cosgrove said. “Don’t get me wrong. There’s a skill set there. He uses his hands very well. But his tenacity, his motor, is what separates him and allows him to be the success he’s been.”

Cole’s motor returned to full throttle in Tuesday’s intrasquad scrimmage after being idle for 10 months. Late in the fourth quarter of that Delaware game last October, Cole was pursuing his sixth sack when he felt three pops over the top of his left knee cap.

The tendon that connects his quadriceps muscle to his knee cap had torn.

“It just wouldn’t work after that,” he said.

His parents, who had made the trip to Newark from their home in North Brunswick, N.J., already had left their seats in the bleachers because they figured Cole’s day was done. Instead, his season was done.

He missed the last six games, but his seven sacks still led the Colonial Athletic Association. As a sophomore, he also led the CAA in sacks, with 11. Add in three sacks from 2010, when he was a red-shirt freshman who earned a starting job in the seventh game after seeing action as a reserve in the first six, and Cole enters his senior year within reach of Maine’s career leader.

Mike Denino, who played from 1986 to 1989, accumulated 27.5 sacks.

“It was never a goal to start,” said the soft-spoken Cole, “but once the number started piling up, people bring it to your attention. It would be nice to have, to leave here with that.”

Cole also blocked four kicks in 2011 and one in 2010. Cosgrove still marvels at Maine’s good fortune in attracting such an impressive play-maker to Orono. Fellow New Jersey native Pushaun Brown, who graduated from North Brunswick High School a year before Cole, became a 1,000-yard rusher for the Black Bears.

“The biggest factors were that (Brown) was up here and Maine, they had made the (NCAA) playoffs (in 2008),” Cole said. “(Orono) takes a little bit to get used to, but I’ve grown and adapted to it and I’ve really enjoyed my time up here.”

Originally recruited as an offensive tackle, Cole was moved to defensive tackle and then, in his second year on campus, to defensive end. He had never suffered a significant injury until last October, and the resulting rehabilitation progress was slow and, at times, frustrating. He missed spring practice and did not resume full contact until after the first preseason scrimmage earlier this month.

“The first practice back, he’s making plays and you could see how much he missed it, how energized he is and how ready he is to get to Norfolk and get on that game field again,” said teammate Trevor Bates, a sophomore end/linebacker from Westbrook. “Football is his baby, and taking that away from him, he takes it personally.”

Maine opens its 122nd season Saturday night in Virginia against Norfolk State of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The schools have never met.

“I can’t wait to see what he does the first game,” said senior teammate Justin Perillo, a tight end. “He looks great. He looks better than he’s ever been before, coming off the ball.”

That spells trouble for opposing quarterbacks. Maine senior Marcus Wasilewski, sacked twice by Cole on Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Cole chase someone else each weekend.

“It’s just great to see Mike back in action,” Wasilewski said after Wednesday night’s Meet the Bears night. “You never want (a season-ending injury) to happen to anybody, but to see it happen to somebody like Mike, who is so passionate about the game ?e’re just really happy to have him back out there on the field.”

Cole played 35 snaps in Tuesday’s scrimmage, fewer than he expects in a game but a good test for his surgically-repaired knee. He reported tightness, swelling and soreness Wednesday, “but it’s not bothering me in the places that would raise a red flag,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep icing it, keep the swelling down and everything’s going to be all right.”

Both Wasilewski and Cosgrove pointed to an additional benefit of Cole’s return to action. Not only will he harass opposing passers on Saturday, he will also raise the game of Maine’s pass blockers during the week. All that remains is to see whether his knee will hold up for a full game.

“He went 35 reps (on Tuesday),” Cosgrove said. “Is he capable of 60 (next weekend)? I don’t know, but I feel good when he’s on the field.”

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