Walk into what used to be Lone Oak High School's football stadium, and you'll find an overturned table, trash cans laying on their sides and a lone blue chair standing along a sideline. There are no yard lines on the field, and the grass has long since died.
The words "Welcome to the Graveyard," painted on a wall alongside the track, describes the facility well.
But it's here that McCracken County senior Cole Ousley - who starred at Lone Oak before it consolidated with Heath and Reidland to form McCracken - has chosen to resuscitate his career as a quarterback. He's spent hours throwing to receivers, going through a variety of routes, from posts and corners to slants and digs.
His practice comes after suffering a serious right shoulder injury in the first game of his junior season. To that point, he'd been a highly-rated college prospect earning interest from Louisville and Alabama. Now he's had to accept a preferred walk-on role at Western Kentucky after not receiving a Division I scholarship offer.
Just two years ago, he seemed destined to have his choice of college.
MaxPreps.com named Ousley to its All-American teams his freshman and sophomore seasons, when he threw for a combined 6,889 yards and 85 touchdowns. He was once considered the top Class of 2014 recruit in Kentucky.
"I don't see it as bad luck," Ousley said. "I see it as trying to teach me something. In some ways, this sounds crazy, I'm glad it happened. It really humbled me. (I learned not to) take anything for granted because everything's going great, and it could be taken from you like that."
He's standing about 70 yards from where he was hurt in the third quarter of Lone Oak's 2012 season opener against Paducah Tilghman. The Blue Tornado jumped to a 20-0 lead in the first 12 minutes, but Ousley helped the Purple Flash score 12 unanswered points to narrow the deficit to a one-score game.
But then came the play that altered his future. He took a snap around Tilghman's 30-yard line and rolled to his left when he felt pressure from the defense. On the ensuing tackle, he rolled onto his right shoulder and suffered a Grade III separation of his AC joint, which is comprised of the collar bone and shoulder blade.
Ousley, who said Louisville coaches were in attendance, came out of the game, his right arm hanging limp by his side. He couldn't raise it without feeling pain. He returned, but after one throw, he could tell something wasn't right.
He rested a few weeks but injured his shoulder further after landing on it wrong on another tackle. He said the separation was now, on a scale of one to six, a Grade IV, something more common for car accidents.
After a failed attempt at returning for the playoffs, a doctor told Ousley major shoulder surgery was his only option.
"That's one of the worst days of my life," Ousley said. "I had so much riding on my junior year. I had so much hype. That was a big game, too. I've played Tilghman my whole life and hadn't beaten them once."
He had surgery in early December 2012 to help the bones mend together properly. A few months later, doctors removed the three screws and plate inserted in the first surgery. Ousley began throwing again a few months after that, but the big-time football programs were no longer interested.
"The junior year is one of the most important years," Mustangs coach Jack Haskins said. "That's when they start recruiting kids. The impact was devastating. It didn't hurt the ballteam as much as it hurt Cole."
Haskins knows a lot about Ousley's injury. His son Billy also hurt his shoulder but returned to win the 1992 Kentucky Mr. Football award and play at the University of Kentucky. Ousley's rehabilitation, Haskins knew, would be lengthy.
"It's tough to come back from," Haskins said. "When you get a shoulder injury, it takes a couple of years."
Ousley played wide receiver this past season as he kept building arm strength. He said some Division II, Division III and NAIA programs were interested in him, but he wanted to play at a Division I program.
Fellow Mustangs senior and close friend Evan Sayner told Western Kentucky's coaching staff that Ousley was interested in joining the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm had spoken with Ousley for some time. Their chances with Ousley were likely helped by the fact that Ousley grew up wearing the jersey of Brohm's brother, Brian, while cheering for Louisville.
Ousley admits watching Alabama and Louisville games and thinking about what could've been. If not for the shoulder injury, he may have spent his senior year picking from the top programs in the country, his announcement broadcast on ESPN. Ousley believes his dream school of Louisville would've been his choice.
All he has now is an opportunity to prove he deserves a scholarship, an opportunity to make good on the promise he showed less than two years ago. And he's grateful for it.
"There's always going to be people that tell you you can't do it, that your arm is not what it was," Ousley said. "That's always been motivation for me, trying to prove them wrong. I feel I can still play big-time DI football. I know if they give me the opportunity, I'll be able to handle it."
He ended a practice last week by taking a snap from Sayner and throwing to a receiver. The throw was accurate, the spiral tight.
Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662, or follow on Twitter @DanielPaulling.
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