By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - At the start of Cole Cubelic's broadcasting career, he reached a very targeted demographic: his video game opponents.
"I can remember my friends wanting to play me instead of other guys because I would call the games," he said.
Cubelic knew he had a future in the business when his buddies requested his Tecmo Bowl, NBA Jam and RBI Baseball analysis even when Cole wasn't playing.
"When two other guys were playing, they'd still want me to do it, and get into it," he said.
For Cole Cubelic, getting into it has never been a problem.
After starting 18 games at center for Auburn from 1998-2000, Cubelic enjoyed successful careers in pharmaceutical and medical sales, but the broadcasting urge never left.
In 2001, his first season after football, Cubelic teamed with former Auburn quarterback Ben Leard on a radio show in Huntsville that aired before Auburn's pregame show.
"It was called the 614 Show when we were in Huntsville, I'll never forget that," Cubelic said. "It was the dumbest name ever. I was No. 61, and he was No. 14. We weren't very creative guys."
After his second show, Cubelic called his mother.
"And I said, `Mom, when I'm in that studio, talking about that game, I feel like I'm home. That's where I need to be,'" Cubelic recalled. "And she said, `Well, then you need to figure out a way to get there.'"
Cubelic spent the next decade figuring out that way. When Leard moved to Auburn, their radio show moved with them.
That led to a chance to call Auburn's A-Day game, which led to analyzing game replays on CSS, and eventually a Sun Belt Conference package.
"It's not glorious," Cubelic said. "There were times when you don't think anybody's watching, but it's reps."
Cubelic's experience playing for Auburn influenced his career decisions.
"Some people gave me flak about that. `You're giving up an Auburn game to go do Sun Belt?' I said, `I'm giving up one game to do 12 games,'" Cubelic said. "That's where my football background came in and I said, `I'm not going to get good at this unless I do a lot of it.'"
"I TRY TO LIVE IT"
In 2010, Cubelic began hosting his own radio show in Huntsville. During the greatest season in Auburn football history, he transitioned to full-time media.
"For a former Auburn player on the radio, that was a pretty good year to get started," he said.
Cubelic uses his expertise as a former SEC lineman to provide in-depth analysis of an often overlooked, but crucial, component of football. To scroll through his Twitter feed is to take a graduate course in X's and O's in the trenches.
"I try to live it and breathe it," Cubelic said. "I don't think there's any other way.
"I would tell you I don't devote enough time, and my wife would tell you I devote entirely too much time," he said. "She has grown to accept it and understand it. We'll be in the kitchen on a Sunday morning and something will pop into my brain or I'll see something on Twitter about a certain guy, and I'll say, `I'm going to go watch so and so,' and I'll go download a game and I'll watch it.
"Am I fortunate that a lot of other people have not focused and put the emphasis that I do on certain positions? Maybe. But that's what I know. That's where I am an expert. So that's where I spend the most of my time."
Two years ago, Cole's wife, Katherine, delivered some analysis of her own. The previous season, 2014, Cubelic called two games on television.
"She said, `Listen, if this doesn't work this year, we probably need to look at something else,' not because she didn't think I was capable. She said, `I have all of the confidence in you, and I want you to chase your dreams. But you are a miserable train wreck of a human being when you're home on a football Saturday. So, either go get games, or we've got to find something else for you to do.'"
Cubelic did 13 games that year.
"I can remember my wife said after the season, `Wow, that totally exceeded our expectations,'" Cubelic said. "2016 comes around and we get put on a crew."
Teaming with Tom Hart and Andre Ware on the SEC Network, Cubelic brought his passion to Southeastern Conference sidelines each Saturday in 2016.
He left the sideline for the press box, serving as analyst, for the Independence Bowl and a Sun Belt game. Add in a few other sideline gigs, including an FCS semifinal, and Cubelic logged 21 games last season.
"It's been two consecutive years of just destroying any expectations that we had, so it's been real positive," he said.
"SCRATCH AND CLAW"
Still, there were doubters. Once again, being a former Auburn student-athlete helped him handle criticism and tough love.
"It hasn't been that easy of a step. There have been people who have evaluated my games who said, `You're not a quarterback. You're not a running back. You didn't win a Heisman. You didn't play in the NFL for a certain amount of time. No one knows who you are, so you're probably never going to advance very far.'
"That's tough to hear. But as athletes, we hear things like that all the time. And it goes back to coming out of high school and really only having one SEC offer and having to sort of battle my way and fight my way and scratch and claw. It's kind of my nature."
Like Bo Jackson in those vintage Tecmo Bowl games Cole called as a kid, Cubelic refuses to stop moving.
"It's been a long, pretty awesome road."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer