Commerce’s Cole Chancey needs 542 rushing yards to become Harding University’s all-time leading rusher. But he’s more interested in placing a different title next to his name: National champion.
After three-straight trips to the NCAA Division II playoffs, Chancey — who played football at Commerce from 2013-16 — wants a championship ring for his senior year.
“I hate coming back home and explaining to everybody we should have won it,” Chancey said. “But I hope it’s different this go-round.”
Title or not, this former Tiger has molded himself into one of the very best players in all of Division II in three years at Harding, a small, private school in Arkansas.
Chancey romped for 1,375 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019 and was named as a finalist for the Harlon Hill Award — Division II’s version of the Heisman Trophy.
He moved into No. 2 on Harding’s all-time leading rushing list last year with 3,673 yards. He ran for 1,347 yards as a freshman and 961 as a sophomore. Chancey is a three-time Great American Conference all-conference selection and a two-time All-American. He was also named to the Great American Conference All-Decade Team.
Commerce football coach Michael Brown knew Harding would be a good fit for Chancey, but doesn’t think anyone anticipated how successful he’d be so quickly, noting his 1,300-yard season back during his freshman year.
"He's the type of player that people want to watch because he overachieves in everything he does," Brown said.
The eighth-year Tiger coach points to Chancey’s talent and lauds his work ethic (“He lives in that weight room,” Brown said.). But Brown points to what really sets Chancey apart from others.
“His drive,” Brown said. “He doesn’t understand the word quit. He is just one of the most determined kids I’ve ever been around.”
In fact, Brown said there were times in the high school weight room when Chancey would continue to attempt a difficult lift and the coach would have to intervene.
“I finally just had to say, ‘Cole, just leave it alone. You can come back to it later,’” Brown remembered. “He just won’t quit.”
Brown perhaps best sums up Chancey's drive with this: “If you want him to do something, tell him he can’t,” he said, “and he will do it.”
Chancey certainly doesn’t sing his own praises for his success.
“There’s always things where I look back and wish I had done better,” Chancey said of last year’s accomplishments. “I know the numbers make it seem otherwise … There’s always times you wish you had done something better.”
Chancey also deferred credit for those impressive numbers. His success, he said, is tied to his teammates and coaches within a program that’s gone 30-9 over the past three seasons.
“It all comes from them,” he said. “Just a reflection of their greatness.”
As modest as Chancey is, he’s a major weapon in a potent Harding triple-option offense which churned up an average of 374 yards rushing per game in 2019 during a 10-2 season. He averaged 114.6 yards per game with 117 more carries than the next-closest Harding ball carrier.
Playing triple option football at Harding came quite naturally to Chancey, after all, given that he’s a product of a Commerce program that's run that offense since the 1960s. He said his years in the Tigers’ scheme paid off in moving on to college football.
“The names are different but it’s fairly the same concept,” Chancey said. “But it’s very detail-oriented at the next level.”
Harding has fit Chancey in more ways than just a familiar ground-oriented offensive scheme. Chancey noted a similar culture within the program to the one he experienced at Commerce, one rooted religious faith.
He described Harding, located in Searcy, Arkansas, as “literally almost like a spitting image of Commerce.”
Chancey, who is majoring in Kinesiology with an interest in teaching and coaching, said he doesn’t think he could have gone anywhere else for a better college experience.
“It’s a great fit for me," he said. "It’s somewhere that I can grow as a person, not only as a football player. I’m surrounded by great guys and coaches. It’s more than just football there.”
Interestingly, Chancey is part of what’s become something of pipeline locally to a school 8.5 hours away. Six players from schools in Jackson County will be part of Harding’s 2020 roster. Chancey is joined by former Tigers Levi Pate, Cade Overstreet and J’Varius Wood, while former Jefferson players Colby Clark and Kade McNally will arrive as freshmen this fall.
Chancey said having high school teammates at his side that far away from home makes a difference.
“It’s great having someone you know you can relate to out there that gets to experience it with you,” Chancey said. “When you come back home, it’s not always me having to tell the great things and all.”
Chancey and those old Commerce teammates have been busy back home this offseason finding ways to work through the COVID-19 pandemic. Though missing spring football was a setback, he thinks he and his teammates have done a good job of maintaining an offseason regimen in an unprecedented situation.
“We just find a way to get things done,” he said. “We’re staying pretty busy trying to prepare ourselves the best for the fall.”
Harding’s upcoming season will be altered due to the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shutdown college sports since mid-March. The Bisons’ schedule will have one less conference game. But as Chancey points out, that’s “better than (losing) the whole thing.”
Chancey said his hope for his senior is to win every game in that modified schedule, ending with a national title victory because “we’ve been so close every year.”
Brown is looking forward to what’s in store for his former player.
“He’s a great kid,” he said. “He’s matured a lot since he’s been out there. I love him. I hope he has a heck of a year this year.”