The slow, steady rise of WSU’s Cody O’Connell

CODY O’CONNELL came into this spring as the leading candidate to replace the graduated Gunnar Eklund at left guard and heading into Saturday’s Crimson and Gray game, all he’s done is further solidify his grip on the starting job. There often comes a time for an offensive lineman where the light bulb turns on, a moment where he turns the corner. But for O’Connell, he traveled a different path.

The fourth-year junior saw his first playing time last year on special teams and has not yet started a game for the Cougs. He tells CF.C it’s been a slow, steady climb up the depth chart.

“It was a gradual thing, becoming more fluid with the offense, becoming more comfortable with the position,” said Cody O'Connell (6-8, 351).  “I’ve just kind of gotten better as my time here has gone along. Obviously, I still have things to work on just like anyone else. But I stepped up and just kind of did my job, did what I needed to do. I guess I’ve just been getting my job done.”

Indeed. O-line coach Clay McGuire has spoken often this spring with how pleased he is with O’Connell’s play and that of the offensive line, although there have also been a few spring hiccups where McGuire voiced his displeasure with the self-titled “Goon Squad.”

“I want to say that was Gunner who (gave us the nickname), he first started it last year. I think it’s because we do the job no one else really wants to do, we’re the ones down in the trenches. We don’t really get the glory, we do it because we want to. We do it because someone has to,” said O’Connell.

O’CONNELL SAID he’s been working hardest this spring to improve on his hand placement and technique and foot speed.

“And you’re always trying to improve how well you read a defense,” said O’Connell. “You always want to know the plays perfectly so that when you’re tired, you have them down. And then it’s just execution, that’s something you always have to work on no matter what level you’re at.

“We have it posted on our helmets: Heads up, get depth, stay square. We just have to remember that, be patient with our hands… get good placement, keep your feet square. And just be strong.”

THAT STRENGTH HAS been necessary when going against the No. 1 d-line this spring – especially, O’Connell says when going against nose tackle Robert Barber and end Hercules Mata'afa.

“Robert Barber gives me the hardest (read challenge),” said O’Connell. “He’s so big but he’s also really good with his hands. He’s a great player. ‘Herc’ is also up there because he’s so quick. He’s small for a defensive lineman but he’s got that strength you wouldn’t think he'd have for a guy his size. It’s impressive. They’re so different but also so much alike and it’s hard to read ‘em. You just have to be quick and be smart.”

There’s also a little chatter going on.

“We always have a little talking going on when we’re in one-on-one’s. Just little jokes… everyone is friends out there but when it comes time to play it turns serious,” said O’Connell.

O'CONNELL RUNS primarily at left guard with Andre Dillard at left tackle but O’Connell has also gotten a little work out on the end of the o-line this spring.

“Really, nothing changes,” said O’Connell. “Obviously, I deal with faster players off the edge but it’s all the same kinds of reads… You just have to make minor tweaks and really, it’s just the speed off the edge you have to deal with.”

Approaching the end of spring ball, O’Connell isn’t thinking about how much he’s improved -- or that he’s poised to make the leap to starter.

“I’m just working,” said O’Connell.

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