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For four years, Jeff Cole was challenged by the best wrestlers in New Hampshire and New England. Now he?s off for a completely different challenge.

While most high school seniors will be spending the next month riding out their academic careers and planning for graduation and the parties that go with it, Cole, who was home schooled and attended classes at Oyster River High School, will be at basic training in Texas in preparation for service in the New Hampshire Air National Guard.

The seventh of nine siblings, Cole will be the fourth to serve in the military.

?It?s a great deal to join,? Cole said. ?It?s too good of a deal to pass up, really. It builds character and is something worth doing. Most kids would benefit from doing it.?

Cole joins the military on the heels of an outstanding wrestling career, capped by a season that was wildly successful but fell just short of ultimate glory. As a result, Cole was a slam-dunk choice as Foster?s Daily Democrat?s Wrestler of the Year.

Cole went 50-2 in the season just completed and placed second at the New England championships. He was a three-time New Hampshire division champion, a two-time Meet of Champions winner, and participated in the New Englands three times. He was voted Outstanding Wrestler at this year?s D-III tournament.

In a region jam-packed with historically good wrestling programs, that Cole was able to reach such heights while not being directly connected to a team was even more impressive. Cole wrestled wearing Oyster River colors while practicing and attending meets with St. Thomas and venturing out on his own to individual meets.

?OR not having a program made it tough,? Cole said. ?But I was fortunate enough to grow up in a district that had wrestling. I?m grateful for the opportunity.?

This year, training with the Saints was a little more challenging for Cole, because the team had lost a number of strong seniors who had been Cole?s workout partners.

?Nothing in wrestling comes easy, you have to work for it all,? Jeff said. ?St. Thomas lost a lot of seniors who were all terrific practice partners, and it was tough to get tough workouts in.?

Cole said he doesn?t give much thought to how his wrestling life would have been different had he participated fully with a team. In fact, not being a member of a team might have helped him in the long run.

?It probably would have made it easier, to be honest,? he said. ?But it?s entirely an individual sport for me. There?s not that pressure of other guys depending on you. It?s all on my shoulders.?

But Jeff nonetheless thrived. It also didn?t hurt that Jeff was born into an athletic family. His father, Bill, was Jeff?s coach, and Jeff?s older brother, Billy, was an accomplished high-school wrestler in his own right and went on to wrestle in college at Southern Maine.

?He?s the reason I got into wrestling,? Jeff said about Bill. ?As far as wrestling goes, that meant everything.?

Jeff Cole came as close as one can to a New England championship without winning, falling in overtime to Brandon Walsh of Griswold, Conn., in the 135-pound final. Cole trailed 3-0 going into the final period of the championship match. Cole escaped to make it 3-1 and then scored a two-point takedown in the final minute to force overtime.

Click to Continue Reading Article by John Doyle of Fosters.com