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French survives to become Special Teams Ace

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Arizona State Sun Devil special teamer and former Goddard grad Cody French makes a play against Michigan State on Saturday. ASU would win the game 16-13. (Terri French Photo)

Arizona State’s offense centered the ball in the middle of the field and trotted their field goal kicker, Brandon Ruiz, onto the field. With exactly three seconds to play in the game between No.13 ranked Michigan State Spartans, ASU snapped the ball and the holder caught the ball and turned the ball so the laces were not facing Ruiz. Ruiz took three steps and kicked the ball solidly as it sailed throughout the uprights with no time left on the clock as the referees lifted both hands in the air to signal the kick was good. At that moment, the No. 23 Sun Devils won the game, 16-13 and stunned Michigan State Spartans. Sun Devil students stormed the field as ASU celebrated their 2-0 start at Sun Devil Stadium this season.

“It’s important to win games like that,” Edwards said at his press conference. “It comes down to the wire where there’s pressure on you, where people have to make plays. You can’t have a minus play when you get down in that situation and we did not. Our guys kept their poise and we were able to finish the game off.”

Nothing but bedlam reigned on the field as players couldn’t believe the love showed by their fans after pulling off their second big upset since they defeated the No.5 ranked Washington Huskies at home last season. In the Sun Devil locker room, a happy and enthusiastic head coach Herm Edwards allowed the players to enjoy the win but told them to stay hungry and humble.

“The whole stadium was going crazy,” French said. “The locker room was crazy.”

Nothing could be sweeter than this moment for Goddard graduate and Special Teams dynamo Cody French. French and his family hung out until 1:30 a.m. soaking in the win and his contribution to the game. French has become a key player on all of the Special Teams and a player the coaches count on to give maximum effort in keeping other teams from having a big gain or return on kickoffs of punt returns in his second year of playing football. French played on 14 plays on Special Teams in the Michigan State game.

“The vibe is good around here, French said. “Coach Herm (Edwards) brought the team together and told us to ‘stay humble and hungry.’ We have a tough game this weekend and our first away game is against San Diego State. I think this game will dictate what kind of team we are.”

That French is even in this position after all he has endured is a testament to his love of competition and belief in himself that no challenge is too big for him.

Strap it up and go

Goddard’s running back Cody French runs the ball in a game at the Wool Bowl his senior season. (Shawn Naranjo Photo)

Not again, thought Goddard graduate Cody French. French had spent the last year battling for a spot on the Arizona State roster as a walk-on defensive back and was just starting to get comfortable in the system and get playing time. French had gotten to know former coach Todd Graham, who had told the team at practice during the season that he’d been fired and his last game coaching the team would be in the Sun Bowl as ASU played North Carolina State.

French spent his first year back in football getting in football shape and was feeling pretty good about himself, after going toe-to-toe with the college football’s best receiver in N’ Keal Harry every day in practice.

“The thought of not playing or transferring was not a question to me,” French said. “To me, I knew a new coaching staff was coming in and if they make me try out again, so be it — I’ll do it. I didn’t have to walk-on again to tryout, but I did have to make a roster cut to play.”

French was not guaranteed a roster spot when new coach Herm Edwards was announced as the new ASU coach. Edwards brought with him professional attitude (NFL) toward practices and there was less hitting and more mental repetitions at his position. French did not have to try out again as a walk-on but he had to fight to remain on the team. With spring practice to determine if he would, he was invited back for summer workout to make the team.

“There was a message sent,” Edwards said as he evaluated his team during spring practice. “It is always evaluation and always participation.”

French needed a big spring game to be invited back for summer workouts and he did as he added the “special” in Special Teams. He also had 15 reps on defense during the game plus Special Teams. French knew that he had to perform in the spring game because ASU had recruited seven more freshmen safeties to come into fall camp.

“Even though I didn’t get the reps I wanted to in the spring game,” French said, “I did well on Special Teams in the spring game and I believe that is why I’m on Special Teams today. I think there is a trust now because the coaches know what kind of player I am and what I can do, and they will put me in a situation where I can perform well.”

Special Teams maven

French is on the kickoff, kickoff return, punt returm and punt team. He fluctuates on defense between second and third team safety. He also takes reps whether he is on the field or not, so that when his name is called, he knows what to do and has taken the mental rep at his position and played it down in his mind.

“I’m hungry,” French said. “I’m looking for my opportunity. Anytime I’m not in, I’m still paying attention. When the coaches make the call, I go through it in my head. So when I get into the game there is no pressure because I’ve already gone through the rep in practice. I never feel pressure, I’m just ready.”

French has focused on Special Teams and takes pride in being the leader on the field and tries to lead the team in tackles.

“My mindset is to dominate Special Teams,” French said, “to be the first one down there and make a tackle. I believe I’m going to impact the play somehow.”

For the San Diego State game, French expects the game to be a defensive physical football game. San Diego State runs the exact same defensive scheme that ASU does.

Last hurrah

One the biggest differences for French is that he made the traveling team this season, something he didn’t do last year. French is appreciative of his chance at big time football and being able to do what he loves — playing football instead of baseball.

“This being my last year,” French said, “I’m going to take it in and enjoy the moment. I’m letting it all hang out this year. It’s an honor to come out here and play a sport that I love rather than playing a sport I didn’t love. I’m definitely blessed and everything I’ve gone through has been worth it. I’m living my dream.”