Updated: October 4, 2012 at 12:00 am
Cody Getz has this knack for creating believers.
Sure, there are doubters. Always have been, largely because Getz runs through his football life with a 5-foot-7, 170-pound (at best) frame.
But once you see him skipping past tacklers, defying the giants despite his absurd lack of size, the doubts turn to belief.
Getz, Air Force’s senior tailback, has delivered one of the happy surprises of this college football season. After sitting the bench for three seasons, he’s bolted into the national spotlight with 683 yards in four games, including 222 yards last week in a rout over CSU. Getz and the Falcons play Navy on Saturday at Falcon Stadium. Kickoff is 9:30 a.m.
For many, Getz’s transformation is a shock from nowhere, but for those who have been paying close attention, Getz’s sprint to stardom rewards their stubborn faith.
Jess Simpson clearly remembers the first time he saw Getz run with a football. Simpson serves as coach at Buford High School, a Georgia power that has won four state titles since 2005. In 2004 Getz was a ninth-grader with hopes of playing for Buford’s varsity.
“Lightning in a bottle,” Simpson said this week from his office. “He could change directions as well as anybody I’d ever seen. You knew he had a special talent.”
Charlton Warren, Air Force’s defensive coordinator, had a similar jolting experience. He traveled to Buford to look at the school’s vast collection of elite talent, but found himself smitten with the team’s smallest player.
Getz did not start as a junior on Buford’s state title team, backing up Demetrius Murray, who now plays for South Florida. Warren still sensed something special in Getz. He wanted him to play for Air Force.
“Nobody else is going to recruit this kid,” Warren said to himself in the spring of 2008.
He was right. Nobody else in Division I was going to offer Getz a scholarship.
Still, Warren faced a challenge. He had to convince his fellow Air Force coaches Getz was worthy.
It wasn’t easy. In late May 2008, Warren sat with the Air Force staff in a big football office. The coaches had returned from weeks of intensive recruiting and were spending 12 hours a day discussing – and discarding – players.
The coaches admired Getz’s elusiveness and speed. They also noticed his frame, miniscule by college standards. The coaches wanted to drop Getz.
Warren would not be moved.
“We will find bigger,” he said, his voice rising. “We will find faster. We will not find better. I promise you, this kid is a ballplayer.”
Warren’s passionate belief in Getz caught the attention of head coach Troy Calhoun. Warren, in a wise move, emphasized Getz would be an ideal cadet. Getz remained on Air Force’s list.
He emerged as one of Georgia’s finest players in his senior season, leading Buford to another state title while collecting 1,359 yards and 29 touchdowns. He gained 239 yards in Buford’s breezy victory in the state final.
Simpson believed recruiters would finally chase Getz after the title performance, but the pursuit never happened. The University of Georgia, Getz’s dream destination, offered only preferred walk-on status.
Getz instead chose Air Force.
“They truly believed in me,” he said this week. “That was a huge, huge thing.”
It took time for Getz to emerge as the player Warren always believed he could be. Getz sat behind Asher Clark for three seasons. In his junior season, he struggled with a colon infection, losing weight from his diminutive frame.
In August, Getz claimed the starting position, moving past rivals Wes Cobb and Jon Lee. In the season opener against Idaho State, the player nobody but Air Force wanted romped to 216 yards and three touchdowns.
Warren declined to indulge in emotional outbursts as he watched Getz sprint to the end zone. He didn’t shake his fists, didn’t shout to the heavens.
“It was pretty cool,” Warren said of Getz’s sudden move from bench to stardom. “You’re proud of him working so hard. But I’m not surprised. I never doubted him.”
Getz has since punished defenses from Michigan, UNLV and CSU. He’s second in the nation in yards per game.
Perhaps best of all, he’s become a star of the highlight reel at Buford High. Once a week, Simpson compiles the best plays from former Buford stars to show his players.
“That means a lot,” Getz said. “Just to be remembered. It means a lot.”
Simpson laughed as he remembered seeing Getz on an improbable yet typical run against Michigan. One of college football’s smallest players rampaged into the secondary and ran over one of the Wolverines.
Back in Buford, where this unlikely success story began, Getz’s high school coach watched with joy and amazement.
“Had a pretty big smile on my face,” Simpson said. “I kept thinking, ‘Look what this little kid from Buford is doing.’”
Spoken like a true believer.
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