Cole and Cade Palmer will one day emerge from all of this with nearly every possible football recruiting tale to share.
A commitment not honored by a school that then ghosted them. A major Power Five offer. Zigs and zags from a once-in-a-century pandemic. High-profile camps, last-minute changes, the lingering hope that the brothers could play together at the next level ... it's all in there for this pair from The Classical Academy.
And that's just in the past 18 months.
But from roughly the time of TCA’s last football playoff game played on Nov. 9, 2019, through the Titans next playoff game scheduled against Aspen on Saturday, the experiences they've weathered just keep topping each other in degrees of strangeness.
“It’s just been so …,” Cole and Cade's mother Bethany Palmer mused. “It’s been crazy, crazy.”
Added their father, Scott, “The Lord has been so good to us on the journey, but the journey has been brutal.”
The craziness for the family began in late November 2019, when UNLV fired coach Tony Sanchez. Cole, then a senior at TCA, had committed to play football for the Runnin’ Rebels. The Palmer family had embraced a future at UNLV, had traveled to multiple states to watch them play and assumed the oldest of their two sons had the next four years planned.
Then, the new UNLV coach didn’t reach out. Nobody returned calls. Eventually, they found out through ESPN.com that Cole’s offer no long existed.
They had 2 ½ weeks before signing day to find a new home for Cole. Colorado State, with its scholarships spoken for, offered a preferred walk-on spot. Then, with five days left, Air Force reached out. Cole was impressed and signed.
For this family with no football background – Bethany was once a nationally ranked swimmer; Scott, well, he did grow out of the 5-2, 90-pound frame he carried through graduation at Colorado Springs Christian School but he never experienced the recruiting trail – this was a hard-knock educational experience that would inform their approach to the process for their second son.
Big brother was going to pave the way, just as he had as a lead blocker during the 2019 season.
Cade was clearly going to be a touted recruit, as he ran for 1,355 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore. Like Cole, who played inside linebacker and guard as a senior for the Titans but was recruited by some schools as a tight end, defensive end or outside linebacker, Cade shone on both sides of the ball as a tailback and safety.
“The cool thing about both of them is they’re both kind of a Swiss Army knife,” TCA coach Justin Rich said. “There’s a ton of different positions I could put them at. And both of those kids work. I’ve said it a million times, when your best player is your hardest-working player, you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”
Recruiters, including one from Colorado, had already started asking about Cade as a sophomore.
Then, COVID-19 hit.
For Cole, the virus has meant multiple 10-day quarantines where he couldn’t leave his room at the prep school. He played in just two football games.
For Cade, it wiped out the fall season and has led to a bizarre junior year of recruiting.
At some point Michigan State posted on the recruiting site Rivals.com that it made a scholarship offer to Cade. Without being able to be in contact with coaches because of blackout rules, that was news to the family; though it made sense given that Michigan State coach Mel Tucker had been at Colorado when the Buffaloes inquired about Cade.
That upper tier Power Five offer has opened doors, including an invitation to a Rivals camp in late May in California that will help set Cade’s recruiting star level and add exposure. He has plans to hit multiple camps this summer, including several in the Mountain West.
“Whoever has one, we’re going,” Scott said. “We’re just playing it different because we know how to play it different to give him some more options.”
TCA (4-0) enters the eight-team 3A playoff as the No. 2 seed and Cade has averaged 178.3 yards per game with 11 touchdowns. A deep playoff run would add more options for game film in this truncated season.
But the pandemic wasn’t all bad. Scott’s brother owned a gym that was shut down, so Cole, Cade and a cousin who plays junior college baseball had private access to the facility. Cade jumped from 160 to 190 pounds with the muscle he gained.
Cole is currently about 6-5, 255. Cade is about 6-2, 195. The family credits Bethany’s 100% Dutch heritage for the boys' size.
The twists won’t stop anytime soon, the family realizes. The brothers remain close despite differences in personality – Cole is the classic oldest sibling, a serious-minded natural leader; Cade keeps a bit more to himself, except in close circles where he is the “funniest guy on the planet,” according to his dad. They loved playing together at TCA and would relish the chance to do it again at the next level. To do that would require Cade to also play at Air Force, a prospect he would gladly entertain, or for Cole to play elsewhere.
No one in this family is thinking that far ahead. Cade has a game on Saturday. That’s the priority right now.
The family’s approach, after all it has experienced, is to keep its options open.
“One thing we know is that they’ll end up where they’re supposed to be,” Bethany said.
But there’s no telling how many more crazy stories they’ll add before they arrive at that destination.
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