New Coug OT rarin' to go for summer workouts

PULLMAN – Size matters. At 6-8, 350 pounds, Cougar freshman OT Cody O'Connell instantly became the biggest player on the WSU roster when he arrived on Tuesday. For O'Connell, size has helped get him where he is today. But he's still just 18-year-old, and battling back from a torn ACL. What's his participation level expected to be on the cusp of the Cougs' voluntary summer workout session?

The next step in Washington State's voluntary offseason conditioning program – the summer workouts – begins on Monday. Newly arrived Cougars like Wenatchee's O'Connell will join the veterans, who have already completed their winter and spring series of events, for the start of the Cougs' summer program.

But will O'Connell be ready to go?

Recovering from a torn ACL is generally, and at least, an 8-12 month process and O'Connell is right in the middle of that range, having torn his ACL in September of 2012. Many close observers of the football program would presumably doubt whether O'Connell and his large frame would be ready to go at full strength.

Doubt no more, he says.

"Doctors said I should just wear the knee brace every offensive linemen is required to wear," O'Connell said. "So, yeah, I'm ready to go."

COMPETING AT FULL THROTTLE is one thing -- it's great news for CougFans, but it's also asking a lot more of a true freshman offensive lineman to come in and crack the two-deeps his first season at the Pac-12 level.

With his size and footwork, and the difficulties faced last season by the Cougar o-line, some have been wondering if O'Connell might just have a shot, although the knee injury would certainly have to be taken into account.

Conventional wisdom would say making an instant transition from high school to the Pac-12, and to a completely new offense -- with wider sets and decidedly more emphasis on the passing game than he ever experienced at Wenatchee High – would point to traveling a redshirt road in 2013 for this hogmollie.

Indeed, can O'Connell realistically be expected to thrive right out of the gates coming to a system that requires an o-lineman to be in pass-pro 70 percent of the time?

Throughout his playing career, after all, he's always been a road-grading, alley-opening hoss for his running backs. Now, in Mike Leach's Air Raid system, he'll be expected to do more protecting than bulldozing.

As for O'Connell, he's keeping it simple. He said he's come in with the expectation to learn, grow as a player and ‘whatever happens, happens.'

"I honestly don't know what to expect," O'Connell said. "I'm going to come in and do my best. I'm going to do what the coaches ask me to do."

O'Connell added that the opportunity to receive a four-year university degree is a blessing all on its own, and having the ability to play football while earning his bachelor's degree is the icing on top.

FOR O'CONNELL, it could be argued that blowing out his knee during his senior high school season may have been a blessing in disguise -- or at least the timing of it.

While any ACL tear is difficult to battle back from – and O'Connell says his was certainly all of that -- he also said having it happen early in the season may have saved him a year in Pullman.

"Coaches never approached me with (the possibility of delaying enrollment)," O'Connell said. "Tearing it (then) may have given me the ability to get better and be ready for this summers' workouts over here."

HAVING NOW SETTLED in these past few days and enjoying the Palouse first-hand, O'Connell said he's looking forward to his summer classes starting up on Monday after going through WSU's Alive! orientation program.

O'Connell also said he's already been making friends left and right.

"Carlos Freeman is the biggest clown," O'Connell said. "It doesn't matter what's going on, that guy knows how to make you laugh."

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