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STINGDAILY: Kevin Cone Cheers Falcons from Sideline

Jan. 17, 2013

by Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –

From the sideline looking in, the Falcons’ quasi-miraculous last-minute win last Sunday appeared, well, about like it did from the stands or on TV: amazing.

Former Yellow Jackets wide receiver Kevin Cone was there up close and personal. He was the only one of three former Georgia Tech players on the Falcons’ roster who was not in uniform, as fullback Mike Cox and defensive tackle Vance Walker played in the second-best Falcons playoff game ever. Yet he was quite emotionally invested.

“I couldn’t jump up and down, but I was getting hugs and screaming,” Cone said. “I was super excited. Everyone is smiling, happy, just crazy.”

Jumping would have been a mistake. Cone, who transferred from Shorter College and was at Tech in 2009-’10, is on the Falcons’ injured reserve list on Christmas Eve, and recently had surgery for a groin injury.

Like fans, his emotional range was taxed last Sunday.

“When [the Seahawks] were getting close to the end zone [in the final minute], I thought our defense was going to hold,” he said. “They had come up big on fourth-and-short earlier in the game.”

After the Seahawks scored to take a 28-27 lead with 37 second remaining, Cone was not one to doubt quarterback Matt Ryan and the offense. He’s worked with them; he knows.

“I knew Matt and all the receivers, the offensive line, the tight ends . . . I knew we had plenty of time to get a shot at a field goal,” said the St. Pius X Catholic High School graduate.

It took just two Ryan completions – and the Falcons’ two timeouts – to get Atlanta into position for Matt Bryant’s 49-yard field goal try. He missed wide right, but Seattle coach Pete Carroll had called timeout right before the snap so that play did not count.

“I didn’t see it sail right,” Cone said. “I just saw it had the distance. I didn’t know it missed.”

That didn’t matter. The re-try was true, and it counted. A 30-28 win sent the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game, which Atlanta will host for the first time Sunday when the 49ers visit the Georgia Dome.

As Cone said, he couldn’t jump. After playing on special teams in a dozen games during the regular season, he went on season-ending injured reserve on Christmas Eve. Then, he had surgery on a groin injury that he battled earlier in the fall.

“I hurt it when we played the Eagles and then I missed a couple games, and then re-injured it when we played Detroit,” he said. “I didn’t think I could come back in time for the playoffs, so . . . “

Cone made it to one Georgia Tech game during the season, and he stays in touch with a handful of former teammates. Working in the shadows of Falcons wide receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas has been educational to say the least.

“Those guys offer so much knowledge and insight, you want to watch them and emulate them,” he said. “They’re top receivers for a reason. You get better by following their lead.”

Up to about 215 pounds now after leaving Tech at 200 or so, Cone has through sheer work ethic made his way  from long-shot status to an NFL postseason bonus paycheck.

He caught five passes for Tech in ’10, was undrafted in ’11, signed as a free agent, cut, made the Falcons’ practice squad last season, and was then activated for the final game of his rookie season. Last fall, he made the team for real.

With a vow to return to action in time for spring work with the Falcons, Cone has plenty for which to be thankful. That includes working in the same city where he grew up, and his parents – Tech graduates Ronny and Janet – still live.

His brother, former UGA outfielder Zach, is not fortunate in that way although being a minor leaguer in the Rangers organization is not exactly punishment.

“That game just showed what NFL playoff games are about. No lead is safe, and you have to play the whole 60 minutes,” Cone said. “I’m sure everyone was drained, especially the guys that played.

“I’m enjoying it as much as I can . . . it’s hard not to have fun. I’m lucky to be a part of it. It’s such a blessing to be playing for the city that I grew up in. I’m just lucky.”

There is a lot more to the Kevin Cone story than luck. It would be impossible to find someone who has worked harder, and he has quite the learning curve, too, when it comes to picking up the finer points of his craft. He did not, after all, begin playing football until his junior year in high school.

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