The misunderstood swag: The sunglasses and self-confidence belied Raymond's team before me mentality
La PORTE -- From the sunglasses to the finish line displays, Cole Raymond openly wore his swag, becoming a lightning rod for attention in cross country.
"It made me question things," La Porte coach Corbin Slater said. "The first couple times he celebrated, I was like, ooh, I don't know about that. That was just because of my discomfort. One of my favorite coaches, Phil Jackson, talked about meeting your athletes where they're at. I didn't have a great experience (in sports) other than cross country and track. I always felt that was something I could bring. I always wanted to meet my athletes where they are, get them to be the best they can possibly be. It wouldn't have done anything for Cole to break him of that."
The more laid-back approach of a young coach fit like glove to hand for the runner who talked the talk and walked the walk.
"He exactly fit my personality," Raymond said. "He let me be myself. He didn't bundle me in. Kids have horror stories of how they can't wait for their season to be over. I have the best coaching staff in the school. They set me up to be great past high school."
As Raymond signed his national letter of intent to run for Indiana University, Slater talked about the afterglow that's followed former Slicers stars Mike Fout and Elena Lancioni, the Cole Effect, as assistant Dan Jeffers put it.
"There was just a lot of success after them," he said.
But for his quiet and unassuming as Lancioni was, Raymond wasn't. It all started his freshman year in track, when he anchored the 3,200 relay team to a decisive victory in the Duneland Athletic Conference meet, causing a stir when he turned around near the finish line and pretended to be looking for the second-place runner with a mock telescope.
"It wasn't even a rip on anyone," Slater said. "That was just what Loudoun Valley did for track at nationals. We joke about it, he was a freshman, I didn't think he'd actually go out there and win it. He was like, what if I do this? I'm like, yeah, man, sure, then he does, and I'm like, oh my gosh. It's something that was his biggest strength. He wasn't afraid to challenge somebody as a freshman, to go out and run with the best."
Over the course of his career, Raymond picked up his fair share of critics for his candor and flair, but he didn't mind being perceived as the bad guy.
"I just want to go out there, run fast, and have fun winning," he said. "I don't remember celebrating a second-place finish. I don't lose any sleep on what some of these people say. Personally, I love when people talk smack. People want to rip on you, you have a less likely chance."
The irony in the perception that Raymond was selfish and all about himself was that he actually wasn't.
"I read all the Indiana Runner garbage," Jeffers said. "He's probably the least self-serving kid I've ever coached. As a coach, this is a guy that doesn't come around every day. In 20 years of coaching, there have been three or four kids I would say were that way. He's right there with them. He embodies La Porte proud. This is a kid who is proud of where he comes from, proud of who he represents. He took all the heat. That's hard to do, to keep focused on objectives, bring people along with you. I was willing to do that as long as we met all our goals as team. He's put us back on the map as a program."
Publicly, while some inferred that Raymond was only interested in Raymond, his coaches and teammates knew how much team success mattered to him, and what making it to Terre Haute as a squad meant to him.
"We were always just away from qualifying as a team," Slater said. "I know it bothered him. He wanted to get that whole team there with him, too. That was cool."
Raymond's confidence, like him wearing sunglasses in race, caught on with his teammates, who raised their levels, thanks in part to his positivity.
"He could have said to all other kids, you go do your own thing, leave me alone, I've got my own goals to accomplish," Jeffers said. "He's brought a lot of guys along with him for the ride. He willed kids who had no business being competitive. He was a difference maker, how he carried himself, encouraged the last-place guy on our team. You don't have many elite talents willing to go out of their way to help the seventh-, eighth-, ninth-, 10th-, 11th-place guy on the squad. They've recommitted themselves because of his leadership. Everybody follows his lead. He takes them where they need to go."
The shades, Raymond promised, will be coming back in the spring.
"There'll definitely be some swag in track, he said. "I'm not going to be celebrating dual meets, but a lot of people will be seeing the sunglasses again. I see a lot of people wearing them. I'm going to embrace it."
La Porte cross country coach Corbin Slater dons a pair of shades alongside Cole Raymond after the Slicers senior signed his national letter of intent this week to run for Indiana University. Photo by Jim Peters