The most remarkable of journeys can evolve from the most humble of beginnings.
In an age when future superstars are singled out as pre-teens, when a LeBron James or a Bryce Harper can appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, it is easy to become jaded about the nature of athletic success in this country. Sometimes, it seems that if you aren’t a star before you start shaving, then your future isn’t all that bright.
And then you talk to Nick Cody. You give him a call because he is, after all, the starting right tackle for the University of Oregon football team. And he did, after all, just help the Ducks win the Rose Bowl.
And you are reminded of how, as a skinny freshman at a first-year high school, Cody helped Hockinson to a perfectly inglorious 0-8 record in 2004. You are reminded of how, for the vast majority of the people playing big-time sports, some combination of genes and serendipity and uncompromising work is what landed them in the spotlight in the first place.
“It sounds crazy to say it,” Cody said days after the Ducks beat Wisconsin 45-38 to win the Rose Bowl for the first time in 95 years, “but I always thought I could take football or academic endeavors and go far in my life. My parents instilled that work ethic in me.”
A kid from a tiny semi-rural community on the outskirts of Vancouver ends up starting in the Rose Bowl? He begins as a 195-pound high school freshman and grows into a 315-pound fourth-year junior for one of the nation’s elite football programs? All while remaining on track to graduate with a journalism degree next year?
“I know how hard that kid worked to get where he is,” said Rick Steele, the only head football coach in Hockinson’s eight-year history. “It’s been very satisfying just because he’s a great kid, and you want something special to happen for kids like that.
“That first year, we were a brand-new program playing a varsity schedule with just freshmen and sophomores. We got hammered that year; we took our lumps.”
Now Cody is the one dishing out the punishment. He moved into the starting lineup after a season-opening loss to LSU, and the Ducks rolled to 12 wins in 13 games the rest of the way while capturing their third straight conference title.
So, yeah, Cody has come a long way from 0-8. And even when he’s playing in the most hallowed of all college football bowl games, he knows he is representing Hockinson.
“It’s hard to describe to teammates what it’s like,” Cody said, noting that many of the Ducks come from the urban environs of Southern California. “It’s not quite a farm town, but it’s a rural, small-town area. They usually don’t want to hear more than that.”
Steele said: “It’s a small town, and everybody knows who Nick Cody is. He makes a special point to come back in the summer and lift weights with us, and the kids are just in awe of him. He’s not standoffish; he knows what he means to the Hockinson community, and he makes a point to remember where he came from.”
And how he got to where he is now, going from little playing time his first two years to a starter on the dominant offense in the Pac-12.
“I did a lot of soul-searching and a lot of asking what I can do to have an impact on the team,” Cody said. “Now I have the blueprint for that, and it started yesterday and today with working out. There are no days off.”
Sounds like a blueprint for a remarkable journey.