This story is part of our #FandMForward series documenting our students' and recent grads' resilience, adaptability and perseverance in navigating the obstacles that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.
Jonathan “J” Cole ‘20 is used to doling out curveballs. His final season at Franklin & Marshall College taught him how to field them, too.
The baseball pitcher’s senior season was set to be one for the record books. That is, until spring athletics were canceled due to COVID-19. Cole pivoted to land a spot on Villanova University’s 2021 roster as a graduate student.
“J will go down as one of the best, if not the best, pitchers in program history,” said Ryan Horning, F&M head baseball coach. “I can’t wait to see him compete in the Big East next year as he will be pursuing his master’s degree.”
In March, the NCAA granted spring student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility.
Cole credits the college’s balance between academics and athletics for helping him secure a spot at the next level.
“F&M really provides a great base for students,” Cole said. “Academics have always come first.”
“Baseball provided a lot of structure,” he said. “It helped me learn about myself – leadership, work ethic, things I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. It will help going forward professionally.”
In January, Cole was named to the D3baseball.com 2020 Preseason All-America First Team. In addition to being named only the second All-American in team history, he received Centennial Conference Pitcher of the Year and the Mid-Atlantic Region's Pitcher of the Year honors, as well as being named to the First Team of both lists.
Despite the many accolades, Cole is quick to deflect attention to his teammates.
“The biggest takeaway wasn't what I did,” he said. “It was what the team did together. One of the leadership things I've learned is that the team is a lot bigger than yourself. We're a team of 35 and everyone plays an important role.”
Cole honed his leadership skills through Student Athletic Leadership Community (SALC), a council of some 100 student-athlete representatives. He served as special events coordinator his junior year, planning Lancaster beautification projects and working with area youth.
“I really enjoyed that experience a lot. It allowed you to have some sort of voice as a student-athlete, allowed you to get the best four years,” he said.
In addition to SALC, Cole spent his summers playing in National Alliance of College Summer Baseball leagues, living with host families across the country.
“J was a strong leader and mentor to so many of our players through the years,” Horning said. “Nothing could have prepared us mentally for having our season canceled this past spring. It was difficult for everyone involved in the program.”
While Cole’s time on Caplan Field was cut short, his next inning holds plenty of promise. Cole’s upcoming season in the Big East not only allows him to build upon his economics degree, but also catch the eye of professional scouts, too.
“Baseball is something I’ve been working so hard for,” Cole said. “I would love to keep playing because getting to that level is something that any athlete has always dreamed of.”