By Kyle LoJacono
At 12-years-old Nate McCoole’s life changed forever when his father, Michael, died from cancer. The loss was difficult, but with the help of his family and sports he has become star on the Seahawks football team.
“I remember he was the best dad,” Nate, 16, said. “He was really involved in everything me and my sister did. It was very hard to see him so bad.”
Michael came home from work one day in 2002 with what he and his family thought was the flu. They never expected the diagnosis to be terminal cancer in his abdomen.
“He was wonderful,” said Michael’s wife, Laura McCoole. “He was very involved in our children’s lives. They waited for him at the door to get home from working at Gaither every day.”
Michael worked at Gaither High School as a science teacher for 17 years. When he became sick Laura, who was a stay-at-home mother, went back to school for her master’s degree in reading education from Saint Leo University. She has been a third-grade teacher for the last five years at Maniscalco Elementary in Lutz.
While Laura was going back to school, her children, Nate and Micah, had to take care of Michael until he died in 2006. Laura said she would set out the things for dinner and Nate would make it for his father and sister when he got home.
Laura said the family’s faith in God and closeness helped them get through losing Michael. Additionally, Nate, a junior, has found a sanctuary on the football field as the starting right tackle on the Sunlake High football team.
“I most like the camaraderie with my friends on the line, but I also like driving people into the dirt,” Nate said.
Also on the line this year with Nate are right guard Matt Sanders, center Josh Nobles, left guard Randy Silverwood and left tackle Canon Clark.
“He’s a very hard worker,” said Sunlake coach Bill Browning. “He leads by example in the weight room and is probably the strongest guy we have. I can’t say enough about him because he’s a great example of a young man.”
Clark said off the field Nate is one of the most mellow guys he knows, but when he straps on his helmet he switches into another mode. Nate did not always have that edge.
“His whole life he was so big compared to the other kids so we told him he had to be careful playing with them,” Laura said. “We’d have parents complaining at the playgrounds that there was a 10-year-old in there when he was only 5. When he started playing I had to tell him it was ok to be aggressive and hit people.”
Nate started playing football in seventh grade in the Exciting Idlewild Baptist league. He was not allowed to play in other leagues because he was too big. At Idlewild he had to play with 16-year-olds because he was so much bigger than the other players.
Laura is the Sunlake team mom and supports the team however she can.
“Almost every weekend we all go to Nate’s house and hang out and his mom makes us food,” Clark said. “His mom is really amazing and she’s like my second mom.”
Those meals do not come cheap.
“Those are big shopping bills when they come over,” Laura said jokingly. “They can really eat and I make sure to get them only the best steak to keep them strong.”
Nate’s work ethic and by Laura’s choice of meat has helped him on the Seahawks weightlifting team as well. In the last year he earned the title as strongest 15-year-old in the USA Powerlifting (USAPL) Florida competition. The title qualified him for the national event in Wisconsin in March, where he placed second in his division. His best lift in the bench press is 425 pounds and can also put up 445 in the squat and 540 in the powerlift, also called deadlift.
Sunlake’s weightlifting coach Matt Smith, who is also the offensive line coach, went with Nate to the USAPL national event. Nate said Smith has been the biggest male influence on his life since his father died.
In addition, both Nate and Micah, 13, participate in track and field. Nate does the shot put and discus throw, while Micah does the discus for Charles S. Rushe Middle.
Nate is not just about athletics. His parents made it clear how important education is and he has responded with a 3.83 weighted grade point average. He is also not far from his Eagle Scout award from Boy Scout Troop 212 in Lutz.
Nate also volunteers at his church’s vacation Bible school, at Maniscalco and at the Relay for Life event at the Lutz Train Depot.
“I do the relay each year,” Nate said. “It’s a good way to remember my father and help other people with cancer.”
Nate wants to play football in college and would like to play professionally, but if that does not work he will go into criminology.
“Whatever he does I’ll be proud of him,” Laura said. “He’s such a good young man.”