Long, hard journey pays off for Cody

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -– Rolando McClain, Alabama’s Butkus Award-winning linebacker, still remembers the first time he laid eyes on Terrence Cody.

Cody, well over 400 pounds at the time, was visiting from junior college during a practice.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart walked up to McClain, pointed to the massive Cody and said, “You want to be an NFL linebacker? You better go talk to that guy.”

The legend of Mount Cody was soon born.

Cody didn’t need a lot of convincing. He was sold on the Crimson Tide and sold on his role in Nick Saban’s defense.

He was also sold on doing whatever it took to take advantage of what he called an opportunity of a lifetime.

Nobody really recruited him out of high school. He didn’t have the grades and didn’t even play as a sophomore or junior in Fort Myers, Fla. But he also needed to get into better shape if he was going to have any chance to play in the SEC.

“I wake up every morning and pinch myself and wonder if this is real,” said Cody, a two-time All-American. “I’ve come a long ways from high school, playing my freshman year and then having to sit out my sophomore and junior years for grades, and then having to go to junior college for two years and then come here.

“It’s been difficult. But I wouldn’t say it’s been bad for me. It was actually a blessing. What if I didn’t go to junior college? I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Upon arriving at Alabama Cody and strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran became inseparable, and 6 a.m. conditioning workouts became the norm.

Cochran said the 6-5 Cody was just under 420 pounds when he got him and is now right around 355. He’s done that with hard work, by changing his eating habits, and maintaining a workout regimen that Cochran laid out.

“To see him run, you would not have believed his weight,” Cochran recounted. “It’s amazing how quick his feet are, how long he's able to go. He’s very impressive, and when you see that at 410 pounds, you’re like, ‘You know much better you would run at 360? How much better at 350?’ ”

At times, it was a frustrating process for Cody. But Cochran never saw any signs of quit in him.

“He’s not that type of person,” Cochran said. “Coach Saban laid it to him from the beginning, this is how the plan works, how the process works, and he bought it right away. He felt like, ‘Hey, they’re doing this for me. They’re more interested in me than I’ve ever been in myself,’ because he’d never realized how important it was to lose the weight.”

Even now, Cody might look at Cochran and tell him he needs some extra cardio work that week if he feels heavier or doesn’t feel as fast.

“He tells me where he is now, because he knows,” Cochran said.

Unlike Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Cody hasn’t been one of those interior guys who racks up big numbers. In fact, he only has 25 tackles on the season, including six for loss. He doesn’t have a sack this season, primarily because he’s not on the field much during passing situations.

But his presence in the middle has made everybody around him better. He swallows up blockers and allows McClain and the rest of the linebackers to run free.

And with Cody in there, very few teams have been able to run up the middle on the Crimson Tide the last two years.

“He’s like having a one-man wall in there in the middle,” said Texas center Chris Hall, who gets the luxury of going up against Cody.

As intimidating as he is, Cody is also one of those guys who keeps things pretty loose.

He’s been a hit with the media this week in California, even cracking short jokes about Saban, and remains one of the most popular players on Alabama’s team.

When he goes out anywhere, he attracts crowd. He’s used to it, though. It’s the same way on the football field.

“I don’t care if they put three guys on me,” Cody said. “I don’t care about tackles, and I don’t care about numbers. I care about winning games, and we’ve got one more to win.”