Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
You play to win the game. Hello?
Any sports fan knows that sound bite. It is shown on ESPN as one of the greatest quotes of all time. Little did former Goddard All-State football player Cody French know that he would one day be coached in defensive back drills by none other than Herm Edwards. Edwards had not coached in the NFL since he last walked the sidelines with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008.
With four practices left in spring practice and the spring football game next Friday, senior walk-on Cody French needs to have the biggest game of his college career to date just to be invited to summer tryout to make the team in the fall. Not only is this tough on him and his teammates, but Edwards made an announcement on Tuesday that he plans on trying to reduce football scholarships to 85. Edwards informed his players in a team meeting that some of them might be cut from the team after the spring game at 7 p.m. on April 13, and that includes players on scholarship.
“There was a message sent,” Edwards said, “and the message was very clear, that we’re in the process of evaluating the players. Between now and next week, you’re going to find out the situation here whether you’re going to be a part of it or not. I told them that when I first took the job, and that’s the way, to be honest with them. It’s always evaluation. It’s always participation.”
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When the Sun Devils made the announcement that they had fired head coach Todd Graham after his sixth-year and leading them to the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Vice President of Athletics Ray Anderson made a change, saying that going 7-5 was average and not the aspirations of trying to win a national championship.
“When coach Graham was fired, I felt sad,” French said. “All I could tell him was ‘thank you’ for allowing me to be a part of this team and the opportunity to walk-on. When he was fired, I felt like, oh no. I just established a relationship with coach Graham, and now I have to start the process all over again with another coach.”
For French and fellow players on the ASU team, a few of them did not like the decision and didn’t know what a change in staff meant for them individually and as a team. For French, the biggest difference between this year and last year was that he was on the team, so he had an advantage of being on the team when practice started than having to wait for Edwards to invite as a walk-on to tryout out.
As the meeting with Edwards approached, French felt nervous and excited at the same time. Edwards laid out his plan and told the athletes that everyone had a fresh start. No matter what someone had previously said, it was a new start. No one is guaranteed a spot.
“He was kind of blunt,” French said. “He came in as a businessman at first the way he was talking, but he really opened up to us after the first meeting. He’s straight to the point. He’s only going to carry 85 players, and he’s only going to play 45 guys. To make the 85-man cut will be a challenge. Other than that, he’s been cool.”
Edwards was a former defensive back in the NFL. At practice, some of the defensive backs will get to practice early and he will give one-on-one instructions to the defensive backs. They will go over footwork drills and coverage drills. French feels more comfortable talking and visiting with Edwards on than he did with Graham.
“As a player,” French said, “I feel more comfortable going and talking to coach Herm (Edwards) than I ever did going to talk with coach Graham. Maybe it was just the vibe I got from coach Graham. Coach Edwards is a player’s coach; he likes interacting with the players. He will come in the locker room and sit down and joke with us, and that makes it easy for us as players to relate to him. Now that Edwards is here, things are easier in the meeting room and practice field.”
Now for French to continue to play the game he loves, it’s because of the passion he has for it. He has surpassed even his own estimation of how good he can become as an athlete. French wishes that he had followed his heart out of high school and continued his football career. However, out of high school, he had a history of concussions, and the safe route was playing baseball at Odessa Community College on a full scholarship.
French decided to follow the love of his life, Courtney Villalpando, to ASU. While at ASU and after sitting out a year, he wanted to try out for football. He devoted a year and a half to work out. He contacted one of the assistant coaches on Graham’s staff, who told him that he couldn’t walk-on until the spring semester of his sophomore year, in February 2017.
“I went to the football games my first semester at ASU,” French said. “I thought it would be awesome to play football here. It just kept growing on me, and in the spring of 2016, I was contacting the football coaches.”
One of the things that French will miss this season is former defensive coordinator Phil Bennet decided to take a year off from coaching. French saw similarities between him and former Goddard coach Sam Jernigan.
“Both coaches were old-school,” French said. “I loved coach Bennet because he reminded me of coach Jernigan. Both got in your face and yelled at you. I loved that. I was coached that way through four years in high school. Coach Herm doesn’t get in your face and yell at you, he’s more of an if you mess up, I’m going to teach you how to do it right.”
Already, the staff has switched French from ‘Spur” on defense to safety. He will be a “Field” safety. In this defense, ASU will use a “Field” safety and a “Boundary” safety. French gets to play more off the ball; normally 10-12 yards off the ball instead of the five to seven yards. He will be a normal free safety cover guy.
Nothing is given
On Wednesday, French noted that he was still trying to make the team. As of this report, two players that were on scholarship had been cut from the team. With the cuts, Edwards has let the team know that college athletics is a business. If he feels like a player isn’t living up to expectations on the field, he will not hesitate to get rid of them. It’s almost like the NFL. Former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville famously said what the NFL stands for: “Not For Long.” The players Edwards cut were an offensive lineman and a defensive end. Last season, former coach Graham kept 105 players, and Edwards is looking forward to keeping 85.
“Nothing is given,” French said. “I still have to fight for my spot to make the 85-man roster. They will let us know after evaluations to see if we made the team to be able to come back for summer. In summer, we have another 22 recruits coming in. Then I have to (work to) make it (on) the team in fall camp.”
Second-year in spring practice
French is alternating between the second and third teams and is playing every defensive back position so far in camp. Last spring, French was hesitant about what to do and how to make plays. He was learning his way around the football field. This year, he has gotten his body stronger and can lift 315 pounds on the bench press. French runs a 4.62 40-yard dash. This year, he has no problem lining up in the right position and with the plays that are being called. He is a lot more aggressive with his physicality, hitting and not letting receivers off the line of scrimmage as easy. More importantly, his confidence is up.
“For me, the game has slowed down,” French stated. “That because I’m confident in myself, and I know what I’m doing. I’m excited, and I can feel it when I’m playing. The game is a lot slower than when I first showed up last year.”
Since Edwards’ announcement as the coach, ASU has hired a new strength and conditioning coach, Joe Connolly. Connolly was the former assistant athletic director for sports performance at the University of Massachusetts. He has coached current Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and worked at Louisville. Connolly has ASU focused on heavy lifting and running. The team works out every day except Friday.
The runs would consist of long-running, which would be either full gassers (length of the football field, end zone to end zone) or half gassers (sideline to sideline) and then on other days, they would run fast twitch drills and agility drills, along with 40-yard dashes. This was until spring break. March 13 was their first day in pads.
In practice on Tuesday, he got into it with receiver N’Keal Harry in a drill. French was blocking Harry, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 214 pounds. Harry didn’t like being taken to the ground and both players had to be separated.
Last season, French wore number 28. This year in camp, he is number 12. Another difference between this season and last season is French enjoys going to practice, because it is fun. Last season, it was drudgery and a lot of the players just put in their time. When Edwards blows the whistle, his team can’t believe that practice is over, because they want to keep going. Another difference is that ASU does more team drills, and it’s similar to an NFL practice. French felt like there was a lot of wasted time during practice. This year, practices are a lot smoother.
“I do regret that I didn’t do this sooner,” French said. “I see the opportunity that scholarship guys coming out of a junior college or high school gets. That (is) what sucks about being a walk-on in my situation because I’m still trying to fight for a spot and these new incoming guys, as soon as they get here, are already ahead of me. On the depth chart, they’re ahead of me and that’s what stinks. I’m like if I played college ball out of high school, I’d be in their situation right here right now, instead of scratching for reps.”
French realized his one year at Odessa College playing baseball that he liked baseball, but he didn’t love baseball, not with the commitment it takes to play at the junior college level. He didn’t like that baseball was a slow sport or how technical the game was. In junior college, the hours were not regimented.
He could literally spend seven days a week playing baseball. He would practice from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. He would play 60 games during the winter and 70-80 games in the spring. French says baseball was not a sport that ignited him, and he found out to play baseball at that level, he had to love it, and he didn’t.
He regretted not playing football out of high school. French loved the physicality of hitting in football.
French is an outstanding student. He has a 3.35 GPA in mechanical engineering.
The thing that stuck in French’s mind was when he told his mom, Terri, that he wanted to walk on at ASU’s football team. His mother said, “Do it.”
“My parents tell me as long as you’re doing what you love,” French said, “and you’re happy, then his parents are happy. I’m at one of the top engineering schools throughout the country.”
French wants to be a dominant special-teams player and work his way up to the first string. He feels like he grinds and gives his best every day. French believes he is making a strong case to be on the 85-man roster because of those qualities and hustle.
“My mental state is I’m going to make the team,” French said. “When I go to practice, I have a goal to give my best and make sure I left everything on the field so that if I did get cut, I won’t have any regrets. Nothing is guaranteed, and that’s hard. You have to go to work and hope for the best. If I get cut at least I tried what I loved, so I won’t have any regrets. I’m happy I’m balling out, and I had the opportunity to get this far. I enjoy practice and competing with the athletes. I feel very confident going against the athletes I go against every day. I have no regrets.”
French will find out if his play this spring has done enough to earn him a shot at fall camp later in the summer.