EDMOND — The album looks like any other old one found on a bookshelf. What's on the inside is what really matters.
There are pictures of Paul Verble making incredible leaping catches on the Purcell football field.
There are newspaper articles recapping Verble's dominance, displaying his statistics and boasting his many honors.
Each page tells a different story about the former Purcell and Northwestern Oklahoma State athlete.
His son, Cole, flips through studiously, hoping that somehow he can be at least comparable to — but hopefully better than — his father.
The album is now just one of many things Cole keeps to remember his father.
“I'm almost his equivalent now and I'm really proud of that, at least with football,” said Cole, a senior wide receiver at Deer Creek.
Paul, a captain for the Edmond Fire Department, died in February 2010, leaving behind his wife and three kids.
It also left Cole, the middle child then in the eighth grade, without his personal coach.
“He taught me how to be a good receiver, even though I was not to the age of high school yet,” Cole said. “We would always go out in the front yard and play catch and he would always tell me when the ball is in the air to use a burst of speed to get to the ball.
“Just having that absent, I had to work on things on my own and it pushed me harder.”
Cole has since developed into the Antlers' top receiver, but now faces possibly his final football game Friday night in Lawton when Deer Creek takes on Lawton MacArthur in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
‘I feel empowered'
Cole's first touchdown reception of the season was a moment of redemption.
He caught a 19-yard pass over the middle from quarterback Caden Sander during the second quarter of the Antlers' 41-21 rout of Shawnee on Sept. 13 and then pointed to the sky before kneeling down, a touching moment that was captured by The Oklahoman's Jim Beckel in a photo.
“I honestly wanted to thank God for allowing me to have the talent to do that,” Cole said. “I knew that I was missing him in the stands because I knew that he would be there and he'd be really proud. Just dedicating this year for him is like my pride and the reason why I work.”
Cole, though, struggled after his father's death.
He lost interest in watching sports, but then he used his athletic ability as a way to grow as a person, dedicating more and more time to improving.
He picked up pole vaulting, like his father, and swimming. Paul was an exceptional athlete in high school. He finished second in the Class 2A pole vault and was named to The Daily Oklahoman's Little All-City football team in 1984.
His absence left a void, especially athletically for Cole.
“I just remember the time he was trying to high jump and he kept missing and kept missing and we just both sat there and bawled on the high-jump pit because I couldn't help him,” Cole's mom Sherri Verble said. “It's been tough at times, so I think we've just sought people that could help him.”
The help from various coaches around the area has been beneficial. Cole won the Class 5A pole vaulting championship last spring, clearing 14 feet, 6 inches to eclipse his father's mark of 12 feet, 6 inches.
He then burst into tears.
“Every time I beat anything he does, I feel relieved almost,” he said. “I feel empowered to keep going further.”
The healing process has been slow for Cole.
But just one year after Paul's death, Cole turned to music to describe his feelings. He wrote a song, “They Say” for his band At Long Last that focuses on how people say Cole reminds them of his father.
He and his brother Chace also got matching tattoos on their chests of a fireman's badge with a Purcell Dragon on top. The words “Captain Paul” and “Don't forget Feb. 21, 2010” are inscribed.
Cole recently shared his story at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event, too. During last week's Senior Night ceremony, Cole carried his father's firefighter helmet under his arm, surprising his entire family on the field.
Each time he talks about it, things feel a little better. And each time, he shows a maturity many people notice.
“The thing I've noticed is he's got a smile and a sense about him,” Deer Creek football coach Grant Gower said. “I don't know if part of that is being a senior and being older now, but he seems like he's driven and wants to do well. I think he has a clear direction.”
Longtime teammates also notice a difference in Cole's demeanor.
“Cole has become such a leader, I mean there's a lot of people that look up to him,” said Sander, Cole's quarterback since the sixth grade. “He's definitely a different person leadership-wise. I think he's tried to step up and be the man of the household.”
Over the summer, Cole took his desire to surpass his dad to another level by competing in his first decathlon.
For Cole, there was nothing more perfect.
“My dad used to always say, ‘Do one thing, do it well and then move on,' he said. “That's just something I go by. I just do that with everything. Try your best on the play in football, if things don't go well you tried your best and go on to the next one.
“Don't even think about what happens in the past. Try one thing, do it well and go on.”