Big Game
NFL linebacker Trent Cole puts on a new uniform for TV
By Kate Morgan

Hours before dawn on a foggy May morning, Trent Cole sits in a cramped tent on the edge of a clearing near Mullica Hill, a 12-gauge shotgun propped against his thigh and a turkey call in his hand. His partner on this hunt is Clayton native Bret Yates, whose equipment includes a video camera and tripod.

The footage he’s capturing is destined to become a segment on “Blitz TV,” the popular hunting show that airs on a handful of national television networks, including NBC Sports and Destination America.

It’s difficult to say whether Cole is better known as the hard-hitting linebacker who played in two Pro Bowls over nine seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles or as the elite sportsman whose prowess in the outdoors has earned him the nickname “The Hunter.”

“A lot of guys that know hunting – and even people that don’t hunt – know me and recognize me from Blitz TV,” says Cole, 32. “And then of course football fans know me as the NFL pro. I’m the luckiest guy in the world, because my two jobs are the two things I love the most.”

Cole was first introduced to hunting during his childhood in Ohio, where he still owns farmland. When he formed Cole Outdoors, the production company of Blitz TV, in 2006, the first people he brought on board were his hometown hunting buddies.

“My whole family hunted, and I grew up doing it,” Cole says. “It’s a year-round family tradition; hunting, fishing – it doesn’t stop. We’re always looking for the next adventure. Cole Outdoors started with me and Richie [Elam, the show’s co-host]. When we found Bret, things got bigger and spread to the East Coast.”

Before they met nearly 10 years ago, Yates says he never expected he’d become close friends with the neighborhood NFL pro.

“I used to hunt on the property right behind his house,” says Yates, 46. “He’d been here for like two years at that point, and everybody kind of knew he was around town, but you think of him as this big celebrity. One day I was out there, and he just came out and introduced himself. The shocking thing with Trent is how humble, easygoing and down-to-earth he is. It’s impossible to dislike him.

“While getting to know Trent, I also got to know his group of friends from when they were kids in Ohio. Richie and Trent would watch hunting shows and dream about making their own. They’d mess around with Trent’s mom’s Handy-cam. The first year I started hunting with him, he expressed interest in trying to do a hunting show. I’d been helping a friend of mine film his hunts for years, so I was sort of familiar with it, but I didn’t know what I was getting into. It took off slowly, and now here we are on five networks.”

On most episodes of the show, the team is tracking whitetail deer, though they do feature the occasional turkey or bear hunt. While they sometimes film in other locations across North America, much of the footage comes from South Jersey hunts. The hunter being featured – usually Cole – will turn to the camera to narrate his strategy in a whisper.

“You have to think of it like teaching your grandma how to hunt,” Cole says. “You’ve got to be informative and make things as simple as possible. It helps other people be successful. We lead by example, and if we can get everybody to jump on our bandwagon, they’ll be successful too.”

Yates and the rest of the Cole Outdoors team – which eventually grew to include 10 South Jersey hunters and a half-dozen hunters from Ohio – have mastered the operation of cameras and audio equipment and learned to get the shot the first time. They don’t get many do-overs.

“It was all learned through trial and error,” Yates says. “None of us are professional cameramen. Its really difficult. This is reality TV at its finest, because most of the cast – the animals – don’t know there’s a TV show being filmed. Everything has to go right. The cameraman, the hunter, everyone has to be in sync. It’s such a team effort, and every time we get better. We push ourselves, and we push each other. That’s how we’ve been able to hold our own with professionals and get on major networks.”

Often, the biggest challenge is planning a hunt around the team’s busy schedules.

“Deer season here starts around the second weekend in September and goes through the last weekend in January,”

Yates says. “There are waterfowl seasons and small game seasons, but those aren’t a big hit on TV. So when it’s deer season, you need to get out there and make it happen. Everybody has jobs, families and lives, so when you do get free time it has to be productive. We have fun, but we’re no-nonsense when it’s time to get down to business. All you can do is give 100 percent and hope it’s enough.”

Last year, the longtime Eagle was signed by the Indianapolis Colts

Last year, the longtime Eagle was signed by the Indianapolis Colts

There is no schedule busier than Cole’s. This past off-season, he was released by the Eagles and signed with the Indianapolis Colts. He’s also a newlywed – he and wife Paige Delaney were married this summer. And while he spends a lot of time on his farm in Ohio and on the field in Indiana, his favorite hunting is still on his 20 acres in Mullica Hill – property he has no intention of giving up anytime soon.

“There’s so much to do here, and I love the social aspect of it,” Cole says. “You have to fight to stay in the game. Jersey hunting is hard hunting. We’re in a region where there’s a lot of pressure. We don’t have the same animals they have in other parts of North America, and you have to work so hard for it here.”

Yates says what makes the show successful is both the challenge of hunting in this region and Cole’s winning personality.

“I think football is what gets the door open – Trent is obviously so marketable,” Yates says.

“But him being a professional football player almost doesn’t matter once people see how good a person he is and how accessible he is. I think the biggest thing our show brings is a sense of camaraderie. The community of hunters – especially in South Jersey – we all grew up pretty much the same way, with a father or grandfather who instilled this passion in us. We’re the guys who dream about the big game, the easy hunts. But people want to see the guy who suffers. They want to see the guy who really has to work for it.”

The late spring turkey hunt ends in disappointment; two young birds pass through the clearing around dawn, but Cole lets them wander on by. They aren’t the big, strutting toms he’s looking for. The hunter doesn’t seem defeated, though; he’s already planning his next trip into the woods.

“It’s not about killing,” he says. “It’s about the experience when you’re out there. The woods come alive. Hunting has taught me a lot of life lessons. What’s important is being outdoors, being around friends, learning to appreciate the land you’re on and the people you’re with. It’s hard work, and it requires a lot of patience. These are all things I plan to pass down to my children and grandchildren. This is our heritage.”

October 2015
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