Cole Surber entered Patriot High School without much middle-school experience as an offensive lineman.
He did not play the sport as a sixth-grader. He was cut from Gainesville Middle School’s team as a seventh-grader and primarily kicked his eighth-grade year after successfully booting a kickoff to the 10-yard line during tryouts.
Surber kicked again for Patriot’s freshman team and ended as the team’s leading tackler on special teams. But those days quickly came to a close.
Seeing his son’s potential, Kevin Surber wanted his son to focus on the offensive line. The decision made sense. Cole Surber was always big for his age.
He also hailed from a family of linemen. His father played upfront at Stonewall Jackson High School (now Unity Reed). His grandfather, Kenneth, was a lineman at Concord College and coached the position at Woodbridge High School.
Surber had no problem giving up his kicking duties. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Through the combined efforts of various coaches, including Kevin as Patriot’s offensive line coach, and his own tireless work ethic, Surber developed into a dominant force. He started on varsity as a sophomore and earned first-team, all-Class 6 honors last season on his way to becoming a Division I prospect.
Now Surber is headed to the University of Virginia.
On April 29, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound junior tackle became the Cavaliers’ first commitment for the class of 2023 when he announced his plans to sign with the Cavaliers in December. Surber will finish out his senior year at Patriot instead of graduating early and enrolling in Virginia next January.
Surber is only the third Prince William County player to commit to Virginia in the past 10 years. The others were 2013 Potomac graduate Donte Wilkins and 2019 Stonewall Jackson graduate Chayce Chalmers
“My dad always said this and I have said it as well: The only thing that separates me from a college athlete is experience,” Surber said.
Academics played a part in Surber’s decision to attend one of the nation’s top public universities. He carries a 4.0 grade point average.
But Surber’s relationship with Cavaliers’ offensive line coach Garett Tujague made the biggest difference.
Through Tujague, Surber received his first Division I scholarship offer from Virginia last May. In that moment, Surber realized something important.
“It put in my mind to set me up with success,” Surber said. “If I kept improving, I could become a Division I player.”
He picked up more offers afterward, including ones from South Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, Maryland, Tennessee and West Virginia. But the Cavaliers remained at the forefront primarily because of Tujague.
“He’s a great teacher, but he’s also a teacher of manhood,” Surber said. “He’s a humble man who doesn’t brag about himself. He connects with his players.”
Surber took a wait-and-see approach about playing for Virginia when Bronco Mendenhall stepped down at the end of the 2021 season and was replaced by Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott on Dec. 10.
As he considered his options, Surber wanted to see where Tujague ended up.
“If [Tujague] went somewhere else, there wasn’t anything left,” Surber said. “Don’t get me wrong. Virginia is a great school academically, but I wouldn’t have had anyone who I had a prior relationship with there.”
When Elliott retained Tujague and honored Surber’s scholarship offer, Surber stuck with the Cavaliers.
Deciding Friday it was time to pick a school, Surber informed coaches from West Virginia, Duke, Liberty and Princeton that he planned to commit to Virginia.
“I’ve known for a while that was the best place for me,” said Surber, who has made five unofficial visits to Virginia. “When you take everything into account, anytime I went, Virginia shined more.”