All-American Cole Myhra ready to lead at UW-Oshkosh
Former Menomonee Falls mentor Cerroni heads team
Years ago, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh NCAA Division III pre-season first-team All-American senior running back Cole Myhra worked hard to earn Titans' coach Pat Cerroni's trust.
"I played a little bit against (then national champion) Whitewater and I threw an option pass for a touchdown (in a different game) before I ever ran for one," said Myhra.
The bond was established quickly and Cerroni started giving Myhra more and more responsibility.
Myhra did his part, working ever harder. It was a trait he developed through his Tom Brady-like chip on the shoulder. It was what helped him earn second-team All-WIAC honors in 2011 as a sophomore despite playing the whole season as a third-string back on a 7-3 team.
"At that point, he wanted to be a really good player," said Cerroni, "but I didn't realize how determined Cole was to be the best he could be. I didn't know how much heart he had."
Being the best
A great deal, as it turned out, as Myhra hit a major peak last year, earning second-team All-American honors after a spectacular season that included 1,589 yards rushing on 246 carries (6.5 yards per carry average) with 16 TDs.
He had a run of six consecutive 100-yard games and also caught 44 balls for 418 yards and three TDs as the Titans turned in a program best, finishing as WIAC champions and NCAA national semifinalists in a 13-1 campaign.
Now Cerroni trusts Myhra implicitly.
"The thing with we coaches," said Cerroni, "is that we're often dumb. We don't realize how good a kid is until he's gone."
Cerroni is grateful he learned before it was too late what he had in Myhra, but from his perspective, it was hard to ignore what Myhra brought to the table.
"He's the toughest kid on the field," said Cerroni. "He may not look it (at 5-11, 210 pounds), but he is the mentally and physically toughest kid out there. He has such self-confidence. It's not cockiness. It's confidence. He's an athlete who has fun.
"He does what he has to do in practice and then when you get him into a game, you go 'Lord, where did that come from?' And it came from his toughness and his confidence. He has just an uncanny ability to face down fear."
"He said 'I'm the best back in the league' (going into last year). I didn't know if I believed that then, but by the end of the season, he was. He's just dedicated to being the best."
"I was determined to be a big fish in a big pond when I came up here," said Myhra. "I knew I would have to change my mentality when I got to college."
And in doing so, he helped Cerroni, who coached three years at Falls from 1997-99 before joining the Oshkosh staff, change the mentality of Oshkosh. The Titans have been chasing the likes of UW-La Crosse and then multi-time NCAA Division III national champ UW-Whitewater for decades in the WIAC.
"We beat Whitewater (at Whitewater), beat La Crosse at their place for the first time in something like 44 years," said Cerroni. "We got over so many hurdles."
He got the Titans this far by doing what he has always done in his seven-year tenure at Oshkosh, recruiting hard among the Milwaukee suburbs including other former Falls' players as well as the WIAC's third-leading career rushing leader, former Homestead star Andy Moriarty.
Cerroni also looked for players with a certain edge to them.
"I've always said that we didn't get kids who wanted to play at Whitewater, but we got kids who wanted to beat Whitewater," said Cerroni. "That message is still there."
And he's got another one of them in Myhra, who was elected one of the team's co-captains this season. Myhra will be more front and center this fall as the Titans try to build another WIAC championship squad behind a largely-rebuilt defense and without graduated All-American quarterback Nate Wara.
Pushing each other
Myhra came up out of the celebrated 2010 class at Falls where he was the 2009 NOW Newspapers Player of the Year for the WIAA Division 1 state runner-up Indians. His class was an intelligent, driven group that preferred success en masse as opposed to individual glory. It was a formula that worked in football, basketball, wrestling, track and baseball. They competed well as teams after driving each other hard individually.
Stories of Myhra and his then Falls quarterback Max Poeske trying to one-up each other while competing in the triple jump in track are the stuff of legend around the village.
"We made ourselves believe that we were the best triple jumpers out there," said Myhra. "Of course we weren't, but the competition was healthy. In fact, the more of it you get the better. It comes into play on the field and when you try to go out and get a job. You want to put your best foot forward."
Myhra, who is on schedule to graduate with a degree in supply chain operations management, found more people like that in Oshkosh, people who were determined to succeed.
"I'm surrounded by good people," he said. "Coach (Cerroni) does a good job of developing us and we've grown as a result. We're a great program now and we all know that success comes from how well you prepare. You just can't step in and expect things to work.
"You have to work your way towards things. That including morning weight-lifting sessions, putting in the time in spring practice and lots of film study. A lot of us have bought into that philosophy. It starts at home and then spreads."
Falls, Oshkosh ties
Home for Myhra was the Falls. It also included his whole history, including his celebrated uncles Larry and Ron Myhra who were top-flight running backs at Falls and Falls East high schools in the 1960s and 1970s. His father, Wayne, was an All-American gymnast at Oshkosh and Cole competed in that sport for years (it has helped his elusiveness).
And as Cerroni pointed out there's more in him than just physical tools. Myhra is not the biggest or fastest back out there and he knows that, but that's just the tip of the iceberg according to his former high school coach John Baker.
"He's a tough kid, a great kid," said Baker. "A good level head, a great all-around guy. I'm not surprised at all. After he graduated, I knew that whatever college was going to get him was going to get a special one. A true leader who has made Falls proud. I'm proud to say I have coached him."
Many people helped him once he got to Oshkosh, including former teammates Charlie Weissman and Jeremy Roach.
"Jeremy was supposed to be the top back when he was a senior and I was a freshman," he said, "but he tore his ACL. Still, he took me under his wing and helped me."
Now Myhra will assume a leadership role as the Titans look to build on the success of last season. He will help take the load off of new quarterback Nick Olla, and he knows, based on what he did last year, that he will have a target on his back.
But he's prepared for whatever happens.
"Coach (Cerroni) has done a good job of developing us, of turning us into grown men," he said. "Now look at the program we have....It'll be great. It's (the season) getting closer and closer."
Cerroni doesn't know if the Titans can attain the lofty heights they reached last season but he likes the team's attitude. He also knows that his ace running back is ready to lead the way.
"People will focus on Cole this season and he will love and accept that," he said.
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