Cole Forsberg is a strong 14-year-old boy.
His mother, Catherine, used the adjective Thursday night at Costa Mesa Pop Warner football practice. She was talking about her son's physical strength, which has him playing offensive guard and defensive tackle for his Midget football team.
Perhaps more impressive, though, is Cole's mental fortitude.
It's Cole's first year playing tackle football, but he fits in well with his team. The Midget squad scrimmages Saturday afternoon, part of Costa Mesa Pop Warner's opening day ceremonies at Jim Scott Stadium.
Cole learns quickly on the field, impressing his head coach Preston Patterson. Those who watch from the sidelines still don't really know everything Cole has overcome.
At the start of the season, Catherine told the coaches that Cole responds better to visual cues than audible ones. This is not because he is a typical teenager who doesn't always pay attention to adults. It's because Cole has auditory processing disorder, a condition that studies have shown affects up to 5% of American children.
"He has a real hard time getting all the directions in a big group," Catherine Forsberg said. "When you have auditory processing, you'll hear like three out of seven words in a sentence. You have a hard time processing information. Once the information goes in, you figure out how to respond and what to do with the information. Well, Cole has a short circuit there."
Cole, who is going into the eighth grade at Ensign Intermediate, is a very bright kid. He does especially well in math and science in his specialized academic program. But he's also very quiet, as he deals with speech issues as well in conjunction with his APD.
On the football field, it's OK to lead by example. Cole used to train in mixed martial arts, but now he won't let anything get in between him and his football. He wants to play at Newport Harbor High next year, where his older sister Caragan is a junior.
His other older sister, CJ, is now 23. Growing up, Cole was the only male in the Forsberg household. His father, from whom Cole takes his middle name of Steven, died when Cole was 3. Steven Forsberg passed away in December, 2000 due to complications following an elective surgery.
Catherine instantly became a single mother.
"My whole world changed at that moment," she said. "I've raised the kids by myself. It's not easy to start over, but you know what? It's all about them and their well-being, so we're doing good."
Steven was a football player — and lineman — himself in St. Paul, Minn. The family has saved newspaper articles of his prep career, and his football gear. Cole even requested his father's old number, 61. Instead, he will wear No. 90 this year for Costa Mesa Pop Warner.
The Forsberg family, which moved to Costa Mesa from the Inland Empire five years ago, remains big Vikings fans. Patterson is happy to have the Midget version of a Purple People Eater on his team.
"Truthfully I'm really impressed, it being his first year," said Patterson, in his seventh year coaching in Costa Mesa Pop Warner. "He's an extraordinary young man. He's not a very verbal person. You're talking to him and giving instructions, and he looks at you and he'll nod, but he's not a very vocal person in terms of saying anything back to you. But he catches on quickly — honestly, quicker than anybody else — because he has to."
His teammates were not told that Cole has APD. It's a non-issue on the field. To them, he is just another football player.
"He does?" said left guard Justin Masri, going into eighth grade at TeWinkle Intermediate. "To me, he looked like just some regular kid wanting to play football. [That's] inspirational, actually. I really didn't notice."
Cole fits in more and more. He showed he was a hard worker even before the season began. When he played flag football a year ago, Catherine said Cole weighed 163 pounds, but the limit for Midget players in Pop Warner is 160 pounds. Cole worked hard to lose the weight. The other night, he weighed himself and the scale showed 158.
Losing weight can be difficult, but to Cole it was just another challenge to meet head-on.
"It's sad, and it's really not fair," Catherine Forsberg said. "Life throws you challenges, and you've just got to do the best with what you have. It's very sad that he's had to grow up without his dad, and it's definitely a loss. But you know, it's made him stronger. I think he appreciates things more than most."
Cole didn't say too much after practice. He spoke in very short sentences and didn't really elaborate. But he got the most excited when asked about playing football. He is happy to be a lineman, just like his father was decades earlier.
"Lineman's my best place," Cole Forsberg said. "I like to play lineman, because it's easier to just tackle … I'm so happy to be on a team."
Patterson didn't have to know the specifics about Cole's APD. He said he has just treated Cole like everybody else on the team.
Knowing this can bring a smile to Catherine's face.
"Cole's looking forward to going to high school and growing up," she said, pausing ever so briefly.
"And playing football."
Cole Forsberg is a strong 14-year-old boy.