Heading into his senior year at Cheshire High School in 2020, Cole Feinauer set a goal of getting to play college football on the Division I level, but due to obstacles out of his control, he found the recruiting process to be a difficult one.
When the coronavirus pandemic led to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference deciding not to sponsor high school football in the 2020-21 academic year, Feinauer had just one season of film to show coaches. He had received some offers from programs, but after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament playing basketball on Feb. 12, Feinauer faced a rehabilitation process that would run into this fall.
“The last year has been a rollercoaster,” reflected Feinauer, a lineman who stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 290 pounds. “For recruiting, I opened a Twitter page last February. Getting support from people has kept me going.”
Realizing that he needed help to make his dream come true, he turned to Twitter to ask if someone was willing to offer him a football spot. In a post on March 18, Feinauer said that he was willing to work for a chance because, from his experience, nothing is handed to you.
Feinauer was hopeful that he would get a response, but he was blown away by the level of interest he received.
“The last time I looked at it, the post had 270,000 impressions and had been retweeted over 270 times,” stated Feinauer. “For a while, my phone was going crazy and direct messages were piling up. At one point, my phone froze on me and shut down.”
Several colleges and prep schools reached out to him, but he decided to take an offer from someone with ties to his hometown. On April 6, Feinauer accepted a D-I scholarship to play for Cheshire native Steve Addazio at Colorado State University.
Before coaching at multiple D-I programs, Addazio led CHS football to a 61-12-2 record from 1988-94, ending his career with three straight state titles.
“I think it is ironic to have the opportunity to play for him,” stated Feinauer. “I didn’t know who Coach Addazio was until I came into the Cheshire football program (in 2019).”
Feinauer set up his commitment through Addazio’s son Louie, the CSU offensive line coach.
“I was looking to go far away for college,” reflected Feinauer. “Getting to play for the Addazio family is what pushed me to go to Colorado. They will take care of me and push me to be my best.”
“I think getting to go there (CSU) is a great opportunity for him,” said Don Drust, the head coach of Cheshire football. “As good a player as he is, Cole is a better person. When you have someone work as hard as he has, you enjoy seeing them have success.”
Feinauer is appreciative of Drust for helping to set up the CSU offer.
“He knew Addazio from his days coaching in Cheshire,” said Feinauer. “It is nice to have a close connection with my hometown.”
While he only started playing football as a junior, Feinauer feels that Drust has supported him throughout his high school experience.
“We talk on the phone every day,” said Feinauer. “Coach has helped me through a lot of tough things in my life.”
Overcoming adversity is nothing new for Feinauer. His mother Dana battled cancer before passing away two years ago.
“She fought for a while,” reflected Feinauer. “My mom had so many surgeries, but she was tough and wouldn’t stop battling until the end.”
Feinauer feels that watching his mother’s fight changed his life.
“I was immature as a kid, but when she passed away, I had to grow up,” recalled Feinauer, who lives with his father John. “I had to work harder in the classroom and in sports if I wanted to accomplish my goals.”
Growing up, Feinauer’s favorite sport was actually baseball. Starting at age 5, he developed his skills as a pitcher. But when he injured his arm as an underclassman, Feinauer was told that he had to give up his passion.
“I remember throwing my last pitch. I couldn’t lift my arm after it and had to be shut down,” recalled Feinauer, who worked his way up to throwing 88 miles per hour as a sophomore. “If I didn’t get hurt, I feel that I would have been preparing to play baseball in college.”
To fill the void left by baseball, he decided to try football in his junior year.
“I remember (Cheshire parent) Phil Frione calling me to say that I had to play,” reflected Feinauer. “My mom didn’t let me play football growing up, but I wanted to use her as a chip on my shoulder going forward.”
Playing in seven games, he made an impact on both sides of the ball. Feinauer caught his first touchdown in a 37-0 win over Wilbur Cross and made an interception in a 52-22 victory over Masuk.
In his favorite game, Feinauer blocked a punt to help Cheshire win 24-12 at Shelton.
“I didn’t expect much as a junior,” said Feinauer. “I think I had a good season, but I wish that I could have done more.”
The 2019 Rams went 8-3 and made the Class LL playoffs for the first time in a decade.
“Before I joined the team, I remember being in the student section at the games and screaming,” reflected Feinauer. “Picking up football was one of the best decisions that I’ve made.”
Feinauer looked forward to rejoining his teammates last year, but due to COVID-19 breaking out in Connecticut, the Rams were asked to stay apart for months. While being isolated, he used his free time to get stronger and do classwork.
“Being in quarantine was more of a positive than a negative for me,” recalled Feinauer. “I ate better and gained 30 or 40 pounds of muscle. I had to be creative with my workouts, but I built up so much strength.”
Cheshire football was allowed to start practicing without contact last fall, but when the Connecticut Department of Public Health recommended that the season be canceled or postponed, the CIAC decided not to run tackle football in 2020.
The CIAC made a plan to hold an alternative season in the spring, but in January the Board of Control announced that they would not go forward with it.
“It was really tough to not get to play,” said Feinauer. “If I would have been able to get more film from playing in games, my recruiting process would have been easier.”
While not playing games, CHS football was able to practice without physical contact through November. To end the season, Feinauer was among 20 players to be recognized on Senior Night.
“I was excited to be out there with the coaches and the guys,” reflected Feinauer. “I get excited just thinking about it.”
After graduation from CHS, Feinauer considered spending a year at a prep school, but a setback changed his plans. In his basketball opener on Feb. 12, Feinauer came down hard on his knee and tore his ACL.
“Since I had been working out, I always thought in the back of my mind that it may not have been a good idea to gain a lot of weight,” reflected Feinauer. “It was unbelievable when the injury happened. Everything was going through my head when I heard that it was a tear.”
While he couldn’t take to the court again this year, he enjoyed supporting his teammates, including sophomore forward/center Jack Markarian.
“I tried to be a mentor to him,” said Feinauer, who served as a tri-captain. “The offense was developed around me, so when I got hurt, the team had to adapt to a different system. I had fun cheering from the stands.”
Feinauer credits Cheshire Head Coach Dan Lee for helping him develop on and off the court. “He is a role model and does the right things every single day,” stated Feinauer. “He wants to make people’s lives better and that is a good trait to have.”
In reflecting upon the role models in his life, Feinauer wants to make a lot of people proud in his recovery from injury. Three days after having his ACL surgery, he started physical therapy.
“It feels great to be able to walk now,” stated Feinauer. “I felt helpless sitting on the couch.”
Since he won’t be cleared to play football until the middle of September, Feinauer expects to take a red shirt year at Colorado State.
“I want to add muscle and get up to 330 (pounds) for next year,” stated Feinauer. “I’m going to be the hardest working player that the coaches have ever seen. I will look like I belong there.”
Feinauer added that he is driven to earn a full scholarship.
“I want to give back to my dad, who has done so much for me,” said Feinauer. “I’m excited to start this next chapter of my life.”
Feinauer expects to fly out to Colorado after the Fourth of July.
“I’m an independent person, so I think it will be good to live on my own for the first time,” stated Feinauer. “I’m going to like to look at the mountains.”
He is excited for Cheshire teammates Chisom Okoro (University of New Haven) and Jotham Casey (Bowdoin College-Maine) to also extend their football careers.
“I worked out a lot with those guys last year,” said Feinauer. “I see them doing great things in college.”