“We need a body like yours in the middle, to stop the run, to change the rhythm of the game.”
This quote came from Alabama football head coach Nick Saban in his recruitment of defensive tackle Terrence Cody in 2008. A coin has two sides, and despite the notion of it’s better to be safe than sorry, sometimes taking a gamble provides a stronger upside.
Health issues were a fixture of Cody’s life as a child growing up in Fort Myers, Fla.
He wore a size-10 shoe at 8 years old, and was never eligible for Pop Warner youth football leagues because he was overweight. Cody started to gain attention as a talented defensive player at Riverdale High School, yet academic struggles cost him to only play two years.
Cody was dominant in football and track and field as a senior, yet he wasn’t ranked amongst college football’s top prospects by any of the 2006 recruiting services. The University of Miami and University of South Florida both offered Cody an athletic scholarship, but academics held him from qualifying. He took the junior college route and attended Mississippi Gulf Coast CC.
In two seasons (2007-08), Cody developed into a solid nose guard.
He totaled 79 tackles, six sacks and an interception. Mississippi Gulf Coast bolted the No.1 rush defense and total defense in the National Junior College Athletics Association in 2007. The Bulldogs finished 12-0, and were Co-National Champions of the NJCAA. Cody earned first-team All-American honors.
No one made a move when Cody’s weight ballooned to 410 pounds, but scholarship offers came from various programs when the 6-foot-4 defensive tackle dropped 25 pounds.
He was heavily recruited for Saban’s 3-4 defensive alignment at Alabama. Cody committed to the Crimson Tide on Nov. 29, 2007, and became an important contributor in Alabama’s No.1-ranked recruiting class in 2008 and its first national title team under Saban.
Wide receiver Julio Jones was a freak athlete, but he played second fiddle to running back Mark Ingram in most games in the 2009 season. Its meeting with Tennessee was Alabama’s eighth game on schedule, following two grinding wins against Ole Miss and South Carolina.
Its defense was sharp, but Alabama looked tired on offense. Place kicker Leigh Tiffin connected on all four of his field goal attempts, including a 50-yard try in the second quarter.
Tennessee’s kicker Daniel Lincoln had an opportunity to cut Alabama’s lead to 9-6 in the fourth quarter with 43-yard field goal attempt. He didn’t drive the ball high enough, and Cody blocked it with his arm pit.
The Crimson Tide found itself clinging to a 12-10 lead in the fourth quarter, after Tennessee’s quarterback Jonathan Crompton found wide receiver Gerald Jones for an 11-yard touchdown.
The Volunteers pulled an onside kick and recovered the football with 1:19 left in regulation. Crompton guided the offense on a 7-play, 31-yard drive to set Tennessee in field goal range. Crompton’s 23-yard completion to tight end Luke Stocker was critical.
Coach Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin are close acquaintances now, but Kiffin was Tennessee’s head coach in this matchup six years ago. Both coaches were put in situations, to see which one would roll the dice and take a chance.
Saban gambled on Cody, while Kiffin chose to go conservative and call on Lincoln. Alabama called its final timeout with four seconds left.
A made 44-yard field goal separated Tennessee from pulling a huge upset. A made 44-yard field could have furthered Saban’s opportunity of winning his first national championship at Alabama. Lincoln, who was one for three on attempts, didn’t get his fourth try high enough.
Alabama’s defense generated a good push with defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Terrence Cody, with receiver Julio Jones coming over the top. Cody’s left hand did the damage on Lincoln’s fourth attempt, as he came away with his second blocked field goal.
Coaches, players and fans erupted inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, after Cody’s blocked kick.
Coach Saban leaped, and Cody took off his helmet in celebration. The once 400-pound Cody, who struggled with academics, saved Alabama’s championship season with his left hand.
The Crimson Tide rode the momentum of Cody’s play into the 2009 Southeastern Conference Championship Game and 2010 BCS National Championship Game, winning both matchups.
Cody finished his career at Alabama as a two-time first-team All-SEC selection in 2008 and 2009. He was voted a unanimous All-American in both seasons.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.