When AJ Cole first tried out for the Raiders in 2019, he had a backup plan if he didn't make the cut — a job at IBM.
"There were definitely some times where I didn't think I was good enough, where I really felt like hanging it up," Cole said. "That's how little confidence I had in the process. Not just that I didn't believe in myself, but it's so hard to make it. There's 32 of these jobs in the world, and there's so many talented guys out there. I just think, in order to make it in this business, you have to be good and really lucky, and I've been both of those things."
Cole will have to keep his IBM plan on ice for now after he, along with kicker Daniel Carlson, signed multi-year contract extensions with the Las Vegas Raiders on Thursday.
Both specialists have been at the top of their game this season, legging their ways to potential Pro Bowl nominations.
Through 12 games, Cole has punted for 2,505 yards and is averaging a career-high 51.1 yards per punt – highest in the league– while also notching a head-turning tackle that forced a fumble against the Chiefs earlier this season.
Meanwhile, Carlson has made 23 of 25 extra points attempted and 27 of 30 field goals – including two clutch game-winners in overtime. He also set a career-long with a 56-yard field goal that gave the Raiders the lead late in the fourth quarter against Dallas on Thanksgiving.
Back in 2018, Carlson was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings but was then cut after his second game as a rookie. A little more than one month later, the Raiders signed Carlson and the rest is history.
Looking back now, he couldn't imagine himself sitting here today as one of the top kickers in the league, but he's more than thankful for the opportunity to compete every day – and for the next few years – as a Raider.
"It's been a wild journey and [I'm] very fortunate to have been on it with great people along the way, great coaches, great organization. … I'm very thankful for the ups and downs for sure," Carlson said.
The two of them are the latest in a long line of elite specialists for the Silver and Black. From Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski to Ray Guy, the Raiders have historically prospered in the special teams department.
"Obviously, [I] grew up watching their careers and them flourish here," Carlson added. "It's really cool to kind of be following in their footsteps somewhat and trying to carry on that Raiders legacy that has been here for so many years for long-time specialists."
"Punting and kicking here means a little bit more than just about anywhere else," Cole added. "It definitely means a lot that they've invested in us and believe in us and are thankful for the work we've done and will continue to do."
The success and results on the field are also due to the contribution of the third part of the special teams trio: Trent Sieg, who signed an extension of his own back in March. Sieg is such a support to Carlson and Cole that not only was he there to watch them sign their new contracts, he also came to watch their press conference.
"Every single play we're out there, Trent starts," Cole said with a smile as he looked at his teammate. "We have so much trust and confidence in him. … We've been working together for three years, been through some highs, been through some lows. We just have so much confidence in each other when we go out there on fourth down or whatever the situation is."
While excited for the future ahead in Las Vegas, the close-knit trio's main focus right now is to continue to put up the numbers we've seen so far for the next five games of this season.
"It means a lot that they've kind of respected the work we've put in the last few years and the results we've put on the board with our play from Oakland to here in Las Vegas now," Carlson said. "I think it's exciting, we're young 26-year-olds and excited to see what the next four years are going to hold for us and for this organization."