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Original Model

Shaun Cody provided the foundation for USC's revival as a recruiting force and national power

August 22, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Shaun Cody knew some by reputation. He met others during their recruiting trips to USC and summer workouts.

Cody, however, did not comprehend the talent and depth of the Trojans' most recent recruiting class until the defending national champions gathered for their first full-squad workout earlier this month.

"It's almost like they're starting a dynasty with the way they recruit," said Cody, a senior defensive lineman and preseason All-American. "It feels like a factory almost, just pumping out these players."

Cody, 21, is the Trojans' template, the model that Coach Pete Carroll and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron have pointed to since the former star at Hacienda Heights Los Altos High signed a letter of intent in 2001.

Both coaches say that USC's resurgence -- on the field, and especially on the recruiting front -- began on that February day more than three years ago.

"He started it all," Orgeron said of Cody. "He's the foundation."

Cody became a starter at defensive tackle in the fifth game of his first season and was a freshman All-American. He suffered a major knee injury midway through the 2002 season, but came back last year and helped lead USC to a 12-1 record and a share of its first national title in a quarter century.

This season, the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Cody will play tackle and possibly end for a team that will start the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches' polls.

"I remember when I was a kid watching Florida State and they were just like a powerhouse," Cody said. "And Notre Dame was a powerhouse every year -- a great team and national champions. It feels like it's swinging that way for us."

Cody, a sociology major who sports an interlocking "SC" tattoo on his right arm, considers himself one of many players -- from Southern California and across the nation -- who helped change the direction of a program that went 19-18 during Paul Hackett's three seasons as coach.

On Friday, Cody and fifth-year senior linebacker Matt Grootegoed were chosen defensive co-captains by teammates. Quarterback Matt Leinart, a fourth-year junior who was part of Cody's recruiting class, was chosen offensive captain.

The recruitment of Cody began while Orgeron was defensive line coach on Hackett's staff. When Hackett was fired after the 2000 season, Orgeron continued working while USC searched for a replacement.

Carroll was hired in December 2000 and asked Orgeron to remain with the Trojans.

"Pete said, 'I want you on my staff.' I said, 'OK, I've got a player,' " Orgeron said.

As a local player with a national profile -- he was USA Today's defensive player of the year -- Cody became the Trojans' primary target.

"We wanted him to be the guy who would set in motion our formula for how we would recruit guys from the local area and how we would involve them in our program as soon as they could get directed and show that guys could play early if they applied themselves and competed from the earliest," Carroll said.

Cody grew up a Notre Dame fan, just like his father, Mike, but he warmed to the idea of staying close to home during a visit to the South Bend, Ind., campus.

"I remember he said, 'Dad, look at that bike. It's rusted from the snow and it looks like it's been here over a year,' " Mike Cody recalled. "California weather, being close to his family and the chance to be a part of bringing something like USC football back appealed to him."

So did playing for Orgeron and, especially, for Carroll, a defensive-minded head coach who preached that the best players would be on the field regardless of age or year in school.

Cody was a backup defensive end for the first four games of the 2001 season, then moved into the starting lineup at tackle.

"I was shocked when I got moved to tackle," Cody said. "I wasn't mad because I knew I could bring something new to the position -- I had speed that a lot of inside guys in the Pac-10 hadn't seen."

In 2002, Cody started the first six games before suffering torn ligaments in his right knee during the first half against California at the Coliseum. He sat alone, in tears, as teammates exited the locker room for the start of the second half.

But when Cody looked up, Carroll was standing before him with a visitor: former USC All-American Ronnie Lott. Carroll quickly left for the field, but Lott, regarded as one of the toughest players in NFL history, stayed and counseled Cody.

"He said, 'To this point, everything has been up, up, up, and now you're going to have a down period. Your true character is how you come back from this,' " Cody recalled.

While USC finished the 2002 season with eight consecutive wins -- including a victory over Iowa in the Orange Bowl -- Cody rehabilitated his knee in preparation for the 2003 season.

"He never got too down in the dumps, maybe just the first few days," said Cody's mother, Teri. "It just seemed like after that, all he wanted to do was get better."

Said Cody: "Ronnie Lott's words, they stayed in my head every time I went to work out."

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