Terrence Cody will know something is amiss. No one tries to block the Alabama nosetackle one-on-one. It must be a trick. So when the center lets the 6-foot-5, 365-pound Cody rumble by, a voice in Cody's head will scream, "Screen!" That's when it will happen. The back will catch the ball just as Cody arrives. The scene will play out just like the one on the first day in pads during spring practice in 2005 at Riverdale High in Fort Myers, Fla.
Scott Jones, Riverdale's coach at the time, wanted to know if Cody, a senior returning to football for the first time since his freshman year, could tackle. So Jones sent a running back at Cody. Later, the back would wonder how a house managed to fall on him during football practice. "When Terrence tackled him, all you could see was feet," Jones says. "At the time, he weighed about 410. The poor little running back was only 175."
So pay attention, SEC playcallers. If you don't want your backs to suffer the same fate as the Wicked Witch of the East, do not, under any circumstances, call a middle screen with Cody on the field. For that matter, don't call any dives, blasts, sneaks or inside traps, either. In fact, it's probably best if you just forget running up the middle entirely.
That may be the only sensible course of action against Cody, who, despite being lightly recruited out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, Miss., has helped change his team's fortunes more than any other newcomer in the nation this season. On Saturday, No. 3 Georgia will try to scale Mount Cody when the Bulldogs face the No. 8 Crimson Tide between the hedges in Athens. If Alabama's first four games are any indication, the Bulldogs might be better off running round the mountain.
Cody opened his Alabama career by helping the Tide hold Clemson and stud running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller to zero rushing yards in a nationally televised whipping. Last week, Cody annihilated Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs -- the 2007 Rimington Trophy winner -- in a 49-14 Alabama win. Cody's signature play? On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line late in the first half, Cody blasted past Luigs and left guard Wade Grayson to grab tailback Michael Smith before he could reach the end zone. Cody sprinted to the sideline for a celebratory flying belly bump from Bama offensive tackle Andre Smith. "That," Alabama play-by-play man Eli Gold said, "registered on some Richter scale out in Colorado."
So how is it that Alabama found itself as the only contestant in the race to sign a virtually unblockable defensive lineman? Steve Campbell, the coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, still wonders. "FSU looked at him and said no," Campbell said. "Florida had looked and said no. Miami basically was on him and said no. It was amazing. Mississippi State said no. Ole Miss, no. Auburn, no. They all looked at him."
Cody's weight hovered near 400 during his time in Perkinston, and some coaches don't believe a player that heavy has the stamina or the athletic ability to make an impact at the college level. "A lot of people are just wary of guys that big," Campbell said. "You know when people say that if things seem too good to be true that they usually are. A big guy like that who's that athletic, you just don't believe what you're seeing."
Fortunately for Cody, neither Campbell nor Jones had that attitude. Cody received no recruiting interest while at Riverdale because he played only his freshman and senior seasons. Jones said Cody's father died when Cody was 12, and Cody had to spend afternoons during his sophomore and junior seasons babysitting his younger brother. Finally, before his senior season, Cody approached Jones about playing football again.
Of course, after the tailback-squashing incident at spring practice, Jones had to institute The Terrence Rules. Cody wasn't allowed to tackle opponents at practice. He could only wrap them up. One day, Cody met a 230-pound fullback in the A gap. Cody picked up the kid, slung him over his shoulder and kept charging through the backfield.
"Is that what you want, Coach?" Cody asked Jones.
"Yep," Jones said. "That'll do."
Cody dominated as a senior. Against North Fort Myers, he had a memorable collision with future West Virginia star Noel Devine. "Terrence hit and spun Noel Devine so hard that [Devine] was on the sideline puking," Jones said. When Riverdale had the ball on the goal line, Jones called for handoffs to Cody. "The ball looked like a Nerf ball in his hands," Jones said.
Because Cody hadn't played as a junior or hit the camp circuit, few college coaches knew about him. Campbell and his staff might never have known had running backs coach Chad Huff not called Jones to inquire about Riverdale tailback Chevon Walker. Jones told Huff that Walker had his grades in order to go to Florida, but if Huff wanted to see a player, he should check out the video of his defensive tackle on Sunshine Preps, a free-to-players service that distributes game tape to colleges. Huff and Campbell gathered around Campbell's computer. Campbell clicked the link.
"Wow," both coaches said.
"TC stood out like a sore thumb," Campbell said. "He was dominating in high school. You didn't have to watch but a couple plays and you knew he could be a difference-maker."
Even Cody's brief career as a fullback suggested to Campbell that he wasn't dealing with some sluggish giant. "It was hilarious watching high school kids try to tackle him," Campbell said. "He just waded through people like a bulldozer. You could see the athleticism watching him run the ball. He would spin and twist." Campbell called Jones immediately. Jones asked if Campbell could mail Cody scholarship forms. Campbell said he'd FedEx them.
Once Campbell fitted him in a pair of size 18 cleats and an XXXXXL jersey, Cody played with a motor, and he had the quickness and agility of a player 150 pounds lighter. At first, Cody's teammates didn't know what to think of him. Former Mississippi Gulf Coast center Keating Helms, now the starter at Louisiana-Monroe, remembers turning to see Cody filling an entire door frame. Helms also remembers his first thought upon seeing Mount Cody. "Straight fear," Helms said.
That didn't last long. Helms and his teammates realized quickly that, off the field, Cody might be the world's largest teddy bear. Cody, an avid watcher of The Cartoon Network, slept on Batman sheets. "I've walked in on him watching Pokemon," Helms says. Cody said that above all else, he'll always be a Tom and Jerry man. Helms and Cody became fast friends. Helms didn't even mind when Cody sat on his futon and broke it.
On the practice field, Helms rarely attempted to block Cody without help. Asked how he feels when he flips on the TV and sees offensive linemen trying to block Cody, Helms chuckled. "That's a good word," he says. "Try and block him. I really feel for anybody who has to go against him."
Everyone who has spent significant time with Jones on the field feels this way, and that's why Campbell was so dumbfounded when college coaches would pass on Cody. "He's a different animal," Campbell said. "He can dominate at that level. That's what I tried to tell everybody."
Campbell even went over the college coaches' heads, telling an NFL scout buddy to take a look at Cody. The scout said some team might take a flier on Cody on the draft's second day. Campbell argued that Cody is a top-five pick. That same scout attended the Alabama-Clemson game. That night, Campbell received a text message from the scout: "Cuz, you were right."
Alabama coaches didn't shy away from Cody. "They wanted me bad," Cody said. "They said they felt like I was the missing part of the defense." They just wanted that piece to be a little smaller. Preseason reports had Cody's weight hovering near 400 again, but Bama coach Nick Saban had decreed Cody needed to weigh about 365 to have the stamina to be effective. Saban believes Cody can follow in the footsteps of Keith Traylor and Ted Washington, giant run-stuffers who had long and lucrative NFL careers.
Cody worked out extra and changed his eating habits; he cut out late-night meals and ate on a more typical schedule. He also stayed active off the field. Cody's offseason sumo matches in the dorms against fellow nose tackle Josh Chapman were legendary. Chapman, a 305-pounder himself, said he, not Cody, is the Tide's resident Yokozuna. "I've got that leverage," Chapman told reporters last month.
Even though schools stayed away, opposing coaches know all about Cody now. Georgia's Mark Richt, who will force true freshman center Ben Jones to line up facemask-to-facemask with Cody, sang Cody's praises this week. "He's a beast," Richt said. "Nobody's blocking him. No one man is blocking him, and I haven't really seen any double teams blocking him yet either."
So what will the Bulldogs do? They can throw. While Cody is far more quick and agile than a man his size should be, he still won't reach the quarterback as fast as smaller linemen. Georgia also can be selective about when it runs up the middle. Like most defensive linemen, Cody doesn't play every down. Of course, his backup, Chapman, is no picnic, either. But when Cody is on the field, the middle is not an option. So if the Dawgs try to slam the ball inside near the goal-line only to have No. 62 obliterate the play, Campbell, Jones and the others who believed in Mount Cody all along will shake their heads and smile.
"These people who try to run right at him," Jones said, "have lost their minds."