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August 8, 2012
CHANDLER, Ariz. - Around here, the sun doesn't wear gloves when it punches. It's 113 degrees, and people sporting pads and helmets are hitting each other with force. Fall camp in the Phoenix Valley is the bare-knuckle boxing of preseason workouts.
To be fair, the scene at Hamilton High School isn't much different than it is at most other schools in Arizona this time of year. It's the details that make what's unfolding here, at 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, particularly masochistic.
Mere feet away from the Huskies' practice field - a pristine patch of grass void of any semblance of shade or cover - sits a swimming pool complete with a water slide. It's close enough that conversations unfolding on the deep end's deck can be heard. But four-star cornerback Cole Luke, dressed in an unfortunate color scheme of head-to-toe black, barely notices it.
"Sometimes you hear a diver or two going into the pool," he says. "It doesn't distract me or anything."
It soon becomes clear that Luke doesn't grasp the question's connotation. Even bystanders here see the juxtaposition of the refreshing oasis and a football workout unfolding inside an oven as a torture device. Not Luke, though. He thinks he's being asked about the swim team's noise level.
Blocking things out is a skill of his. The ignore button on his cell phone is practically worn out; interviews with him are rare. If you want to know about his recruitment, it's best to smear on some sunblock and come here, to this field. Do that, and he'll happily fill you in on things while you sweat through your polo.
"Right now I'm leaning toward USC, Texas, Oklahoma and Notre Dame," Luke says after wrapping up a two-hour practice. "I'm going to talk to Texas tonight about a date to visit. I'm still trying to set it up with OU and trying set it up with Notre Dame. I talked to USC, too."
He's not particularly forthcoming with details because he's focused on other things. It's the same reason he rarely answers his phone. At this moment, what's on his mind is the final day of his junior season, a game that saw his school's record-setting 53-game winning streak snapped by an upset in the state title game.
A coach driving by in a motorized cart overhears the defensive back speaking about last year's lone loss and immediately taps the brakes. "Nobody around here has forgotten about that," he yells in his star player's general direction. Luke doesn't even notice his voice.
This brand of focus is nothing new for Luke. His mother, who works as a TSA supervisor and keeps odd hours at the airport, serves as his lone guardian. His teammates' families help out some nights, but the high school senior has developed a knack for taking care of his own business. In many ways, he's a product of his past.
"It probably has helped me mature, now that I think about it," he says. "I just see it like, I'm basically old enough to take care of myself."
It's hard to argue with his take. Luke boasts a 3.5 GPA and is on track to be a captain at powerhouse Hamilton this season. He's received more than 25 scholarship offers, too. Not a bad resume for a kid who played his first varsity season as a junior.
Luke learns like a Maserati races. Snowboarding? He picked that up in half a day earlier this year, becoming every bit as good as his friends in a single afternoon. He's also recently taken up wakeboarding. The buzz around today's practice is that he'll play some wide receiver this season, but no coach will confirm or deny that.
"He's a smart kid," Hamilton defensive backs coach Anthony Parker says. "He focuses on something and gets in done. He doesn't like the limelight or any of that stuff."
Not surprisingly, Luke doesn't want a hat ceremony to announce his college choice. He actually isn't likely to make any sort of official commitment announcement. When he talks about those things, he takes a sarcastic tone. It's almost as if he can't fathom why a high school kid would plan an elaborate party to tell the world anything, let along his choice of colleges.
"I'm not that guy," he says with a shrug. "I don't need a camera in my face."
He intends to commit sometime after his visits, one-on-one with a coach to be named later. If the masses find out, great. But Luke admits that getting it from him might be tricky. Keep in mind that this is guy who claims his classmates don't bug him about his decision because most have no idea he's become the most sought-after football player in the state.
"I know the numbers of all the college coaches," he says. "Those are in my phone. Other numbers - the ones I don't know - I just don't answer them."
This is Cole Luke as a high school senior, dialed in on one item at a time and not worried about the periphery. At times, his recruitment is at the forefront. But when it's not, there's little point in asking about it. He has no problem shrugging you off without apology.
To watch him practice is to be convinced he's a loner. There's no chitchat, no horseplay and no laughing in the line for drills. It's not until coaches call for a water break that you notice his teammates are also his friends. There might as well be an actual switch attached to his back.
"I hear guys talk about problems at school or problems with their families, but I don't know how you can have those - think about those - when you're out here," he says.
The same outlook applies to impeding college decision. You'll know when he does. Or at least when he feels it's important enough to discuss.