'Mount Cody' reaching his peak at Alabama
September 10, 2008
Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody (62) talks things over with coach Nick Saban against Tulane.
Terrence Cody's dream became reality in a metaphorical sense on the third snap he played against Clemson on Aug. 30.
Alabama's nose guard burst out of his stance and drove Clemson center Thomas Austin — a returning starter for the team picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship — into the backfield. The 6-foot-5, 365-pound Cody then cast Austin aside and pounced on Clemson running back James Davis for a one-yard loss.
Just as quickly as he'd brought Davis down, Cody jumped to his feet and danced toward the Alabama sideline. After an arduous journey that had taken him from Fort Myers, Fla., to Perkinston, Miss., to Tuscaloosa, he had arrived as a star on one of the biggest stages in college football.
"That right there, it shocked me and it shocked the world, too," Cody said Tuesday, in his first interview session since arriving at Alabama over the summer. "... It was a big moment."
Cody went on to record four tackles in Alabama's 34-10 domination of Clemson, earning Southeastern Conference defensive lineman of the week honors. He's started both games at nose guard this season for the Crimson TIde, anchoring a defense that hasn't yet allowed a touchdown.
Such a performance might have been expected of a player who was an All-American for a junior college national championship team a year ago, but to understand from where he came. Little more than three years ago, Cody was an overweight teen with little hope of ever attending college, let alone playing major college football.
Unknown and unwanted
Cody grew up in Fort Myers, Fla., but never played organized football until high school because weight-limit rules prohibited him from playing with his age group in Pop Warner leagues (and his age prohibited him from playing in higher weight classifications). By the time he was a freshman at Riverdale High School, he was 6-4 and 285 pounds.
By most accounts, Cody was a good but not great player in high school before being declared academically ineligible before his senior season. Though he had grown to more than 370 pounds by the time he finished high school, Cody's size and athleticism attracted the attention of scouts from several major programs, including boyhood favorite Miami. But the recruiters stopped calling once they realized Cody's grades and standardized test scores would prohibit him from going the major-college route.
That's where Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College came in. In south Florida to recruit another player, Bulldogs head coach Steve Campbell and top recruiter Chad Huff began hearing tales of a near-400-pound defensive tackle who could move like a much lighter man, but was drawing almost no recruiting interest.
"They stumbled on him through some friends and coaches they knew down there," said Stevon Moore, Gulf Coast's secondary coach. "They (were told) 'you need to get over there to this high school. There's a player over that nobody's on, nobody's recruiting. The kid is big, he's overweight, nobody's on him. Some schools were on him, but he didn't have the grades, he's a little bit out of shape. I think you guys can get him.'"
Campbell and Huff liked what they saw of Cody, pegging him as a perfect fit as the nose man in the Bulldogs' 3-3-5 defensive scheme. Even though he weighed close to 400 pounds by the time he arrived in Perkinston, Miss., Cody wowed his teammates and coaches with his athleticism, including an amazing ability to dunk a basketball — a fact corroborated by Moore and several Alabama teammates along with Cody himself.
Cody started two years for the Bulldogs, totaling 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks as MGCCC went 12-0 and earned a share of the NJCAA national title in 2007. Moore said Gulf Coast's strategy with Cody was a simple one.
"We wanted him to be conditioned, go six, seven, eight plays in a series and then take him out," Moore said. "But in the box, ah man, you look at the guy's footwork and quickness, to be a big man — to be a 400-pounder — it's unbelievable how the guy moves in there."
'There is no perfect player'
As badly as Cody needed a home to play his major-college football, Alabama just as badly needed a true nose guard for its 3-4 defensive scheme. The Crimson Tide utilized Lorenzo Washington and Brian Motley at the position last year, but both are smaller, more finesse-oriented players more equipped for other spots (Washington is now a defensive end, Motley an offensive guard).
Coach Nick Saban and his staff went out looking for a big run-stopper type to pair with redshirt freshman Josh Chapman in the middle of its defensive line, and happened upon Cody. Saban liked what he saw of the big JuCo tackle, with one major exception.
“There is no perfect player," Saban said. "Certainly we were out there looking for a nose guard type and there were a couple other guys that we recruited that might fit the bill. ... But Terrence was a guy that certainly had the size and initial quickness. We knew what his problem was in terms of conditioning relative to his ability to sustain and that was our big issue."
Cody's mammoth size might have worked in junior college, but wouldn't cut it at the major-college level. Alabama was among the schools very interested in Cody's services, but Moore knew from experience that his prized pupil would have to drop significant weight before the 2008 football season.
Moore played 10 years at safety in the NFL with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. His defensive coordinator in Cleveland was none other than Saban, and Moore began filling Cody's head with tales about how grueling the Crimson Tide head man's training camps were.
"I told him 'I played for Saban, and you're too big right now for coach Saban,'" Moore said. "I told him how Saban's camps are, how he works. 'You won't last in his camps. We've got to lose weight."
Due largely to his gargantuan size, Cody was one of the more talked-about signees in Alabama's celebrated 2008 recruiting class, though arguably less was known about him than any other prospect in the group. Tales of the 400-pound junior-college transfer began to make the rounds on the Internet and in the media, eventually reaching the players already on the Alabama team.
"The first time that I actually heard about him I was like 'we're getting a guy that big?,'" Alabama safety Rashad Johnson recalled with a grin. "And then the first time I actually met him, we had a recruiting visit and I had a couple of guys over to my house — you know, bring all the recruits over and we'll hang out at my house. And he walked in the door and I was like 'that's him?' And everybody's in the house hanging out and he's out on the porching chilling. It was crazy to see a guy that big and know he's going to be part of our team."
Nevertheless, Saban wanted Cody to weigh no more than 385 when he reported for summer conditioning workouts in June, with a goal of eventually playing at 365 or less. Cody had been far bigger during his days playing for Gulf Coast.
"We just made sure, that we didn't want that weight to get above 425 pounds," Moore said. "He got up to 425 pounds and we said 'Terrence, we've got to get this weight down.' So he'd go in the weight room and he'd work hard and we got him down to 405. And that's where he played during the season, 405, 410, somewhere in there. But he played well at it.
"The kid can play at that weight, but he probably can play even better if he's lighter."
A dollar a day
Cody credits Moore with not only helping him get into better shape, but also with helping him land at Alabama. Having played four seasons under the demanding Saban, Moore was able to put Cody's mind at ease about his future head coach.
"He was a real big help," Cody said. "If I had anything, a question I needed to know the answer to, he was there. He was one of the reasons (I'm here), he helped me out and told me a lot of things about coach Saban. He helped me out with my decision."
But perhaps more importantly, Moore designed a workout regimen for Cody and helped him change his eating habits.
"It wasn't the type of stuff I was eating, I was just eating it at the wrong time," Cody said. "I would eat late at night at around 10 or 11 and stuff, and that's when I started going up (in weight)."
Cody's workout plan included weight-lifting, in addition to exercising with Moore's evening physical education classes at Gulf Coast. He also ran on his own in both the morning and the evening.
To help monitor his progress, Moore made a deal with Cody. The player put a "dollar" on a cork board in his dorm every day he worked out, took one away every day he missed, then settled up at the end of the month.
"I said ... at the end of the month, let's see how many dollars you've got up there,'" Moore said. "'And just look at it. At the end of the month, you should have $30 or $31. If not, if you've got $15 up there, man, you've lost a lot of money. That's how you look at it. You've got an opportunity here. Don't blow it.'"
Said Cody, "It was like my future and stuff. He was like, ‘This is your future right here. Every time you work out, I’ll put a dollar, but every time you don’t work out I’m gonna take a dollar off and you’re losing your money if you don’t work out.’”
The plan worked.
"The kid started setting goals," Moore said. "He had no goals (before). Once he started setting goals, the weight started coming off. That's when he started realizing, 'OK, I've got a chance here. Everybody believes in me and I believe in myself.' He realized 'I'm on the next level. I'm playing in the SEC. I'm playing on national television just about every week.' He realizes now, he's got a chance to be somebody special.
"(Moore told Cody) 'Don't be average. There's a lot of average people out there, working at Wal-Mart or working at McDonald's. Don't be average, be above-average. Be somebody special in life.'"
Moore reported to Alabama at under 400 pounds, but not quite at the 385 prescribed by Saban. A few short weeks with strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran took care of that, and Cody began the season at 365.
"We had a goal that I would lose three pounds a week," Cody said. "I had to be a certain weight when camp started."
As stunned as they'd been at his sheer size upon first meeting him, Cody's new teammates were even more impressed with what they saw from him on the field. On the first day of summer conditioning, Cody joined the Crimson Tide for 110-yard sprints.
"We had to run 26 110s, and it was amazing to see," Johnson said. "He finished all of them. He might not have gotten his times that he was supposed to get, but he finished them. That definitely showed the heart and determination he has, to finish those regardless of the circumstance he was put in. There were (other) guys not finishing, but then you look over and the biggest guy on the team is finishing, regardless of the times he was getting. He was determined to make all 26 of them."
Moore said he saw the same thing out of Cody during his junior college days.
"One thing about Terrence, he'd never quit," Moore said. "He'd run them all. He wouldn't make his time, but he'd finished them all. That's one thing about what you'll get out of Terrence — he's not a quitter. He's going to compete."
Once practice began, Cody quickly began making a name for himself during one-on-one and three-man inside drills. He couldn't be blocked by just one man.
In one well-circulated film clip of a practice drill, Cody knocked two teammates flat on their backs, then scooped up a loose ball and headed for the open field. Fellow nose man Chapman said such instances were routine.
"I haven't seen it with my own eyes, until I saw him," Chapman said. "It's pretty freaky."
As Cody lost more and more weight, the game began to come even easier to him.
"There's a real big difference," Cody said. "I'm running to the ball, I've got more wind and I actually get more snaps now.
"I feel a lot lighter and quick on my feet and I have more conditioning and stuff, and it helps me out. It helps my knees out big-time, because (the weight) I was at, my knees would hurt after every game."
Man of many nicknames
Perhaps after so many years of carrying his own weight around, Cody developed an otherwordly natural strength. He's been a star in the weight room wherever he's played.
"He's strong as an ox," Moore said. "He gets in the weight room and the weights just look like toys. He's just throwing (the weights) up like toys."
Chapman is the undisputed king weight-lifter on the Alabama team, with a bench press of 485 pounds and a deadlift of more than 650. The two became fast friends after Cody's arrival in Tuscaloosa, and have been known to move the dorm-room furniture out of the way for impromptu wrestling matches.
"We fool around sometimes," Cody said. "We start wrestling around and stuff, but we try not to go too hard because we could hurt each other."
Despite his aggressiveness on the field and in the weight room, Cody is known as a gentle giant off the field. He speaks in a quiet voice and is quick to smile and laugh.
"To be a big man, off the field, he's just fun to be around," Moore said. "He's like a son you can just take home. He's a guy that's just jolly, you can laugh with. We call him 'Big Baby,' that's his nickname. He's always smiling, laughing, joking.
"But you get him on the field, he's a different guy. That's what it takes. You've got to flip that lightswitch. That's what I like about Terrence. He's two different guys. And that's what you've got to have to play this game."
Cody has earned numerous nicknames since arriving at Alabama — "Zip Code Cody" (as in big enough to have his own zip code) and Humongo among them — but one has stuck more than any other. A Rivals.com story in May dubbed him "Mount Cody," a moniker he said he enjoys.
He's also become something of a celebrity among fellow Alabama students.
"Everybody knows me on campus," Cody said. "They're like, 'Good game Mount Cody.' That's the nickname I've got on campus. They come up to me and shake my hand and ask me questions."
'A great place for him'
As much as his fellow students have noticed Cody, so too have opposing teams. That play against Clemson where he wrecked the Tigers' center was perhaps the last one where someone tried to single block the Alabama nose guard.
Cody's presence in the middle is one reason Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain had one of the better games of his career in a 20-6 win over Tulane last Saturday.
"Last game, I got double-teamed pretty much every play," Cody said. "But Rolando had like 15 tackles, so I did my job."
Just two games into his college career, Cody is keeping his eyes on the future. He longs to one day play in the NFL, though he's said that for now, he's planning on coming back for his senior season at Alabama.
For now, he's remaining grounded in a present he never thought possible just a few years ago.
"I actually pinch myself, like 'man, is this really true? Is this happening?,'" Cody said. "... I only played two years in high school because my grades went down, I wasn't able to play my senior year. I turned all that around (and) ended up going to a junior college, then after the junior college, I ended up at a great school. I feel really blessed."
With the Clemson game televised to most of the country by ABC, Moore got a chance to watch Cody in action against the Tigers. What he saw amazed him.
"I thought he looked very impressive," Moore said. "He looked light on his feet. He looked fit. I knew that with him going to Alabama, coach Saban was going to shed some pounds off of him.
"Terrence is a great football player. Coach Saban gave him a chance, and 'wow!' He's going to make the best out of it. Alabama's a great place for him."
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