Jump to content

#RIPPAPA: Remembering Cody Ford’s grandfather, who instilled ‘dominance’ in him

Recommended Posts



When Cody Ford arrives in Nashville, Tenn., for the NFL Draft next week, a special someone will remain present on his mind.

The draft’s first round is April 25. Three days before that, April 22, would have been Ford’s grandfather Eddie Rabalais’ 71st birthday. The Oklahoma standout, who put forth a dominant season at right tackle in 2018, believes it is his grandfather who helped put him on the path to the NFL long ago.

To this day, a big part of Ford’s motivation, from completing his criminology degree in three-and-a-half years to driving a defender on his backside, comes from his grandfather’s memory. On social media, Ford often uses his hashtag #RIPPAPA to ensure his grandfather is remembered.

From the start, Rabalais was a keen observer in his grandson’s talent and potential. By the time Ford was roughly halfway through high school, Rabalais made the grand proclamation that his grandson would make it to the NFL.

In that particular moment, Cody’s mother, Leah, wasn’t sure how to take that kind of statement. After all, the odds of playing professional football are incredibly slim. Cody, however, set some goals, met them and ultimately became one of the most menacing tackles in all of college football last season.

How did he get to this point?

“It’s my competitive nature,” he said. “I also believe it came from my grandpa instilling the dominance in me.”

Best friends

After a divorce from her first husband, Leah and her son moved into her parents’ home. And after the split, Leah’s ex-husband, who is Cody’s biological father, didn’t come around much anymore. Filling this void for Cody was Rabalais, affectionately known as Papa, who just so happened to be an offensive lineman back when he played football. And in this family, the genes for offensive linemen run deep. Leah’s brother and Cody’s uncle, Mark Rabalais, played center at Northwestern State.

The elder Rabalais immediately served as Cody’s grandfather and father, all in one. When it came to playing sports in their home city of Pineville, La., Rabalais made sure Cody was signed up for T-ball and youth league football. As Cody got older, it was Rabalais’ idea to get him into the offensive line/defensive line camp at Nicholls State. While Rabalais’ favorite team was the home-state New Orleans Saints, he didn’t mind that Cody randomly chose to cheer for the Miami Dolphins.

All that really mattered was that his grandson was well cared for.

“He was Cody’s best friend, basically,” Leah said.

In 2008, Leah married Robert Ford, who adopted Cody two years later. Rabalais, of course, still maintained his role. Robert added to what became a strong support system for young Cody. And it wasn’t like Robert was an unfamiliar presence for Cody. Robert had a daughter from a previous marriage, and he was greatly involved in her athletic endeavors. She and Cody were only a month apart in age and eventually graduated from the same high school. Therefore, Leah and Robert ran into each other often at local youth sporting events, with both being heavily involved. Leah ran the youth basketball league at one point and served on the youth baseball complex’s board, in which Robert got involved, as well.

As Cody got older, and as Rabalais helped instill a tireless drive, it was time to set some goals. Robert grabbed a notepad, and he and Rabalais helped Cody put them in ink.

First, it was to dunk a basketball. He did that.

He wanted to go to the state championships in track and field. He did that.

He wanted to play pitcher, catcher and first base for the high school baseball team. He did all three.

He also wanted to play college football. That would come next.

As Cody progressed through high school, it was as if he could meet any challenge.

“What we’ve seen over the years with Cody is that no matter what it was, if there was an obstacle in front of him, he would always figure out a way to get around it,” Robert said. “We saw it when he was little. If he set his mind to it, he did it. It has been an amazing experience to watch him, to see where he came from and see where he’s at now.”

Leaving Louisiana to be a Sooner

Being a Louisiana native, Cody said it would have been nice to receive an offer from LSU. It never happened. It also didn’t matter. Rabalais once told Cody that if he could attend a big school outside of Louisiana that he should go do it. After committing to TCU initially during the recruiting process, he flipped to Oklahoma. A lot of that had to do with the relationship he established with Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh once he started calling and coming around.

Bedenbaugh recalled one of his in-home visits to see Cody at Rabalais’ home, where he was served Papa’s jambalaya, which he described as “off-the-charts good.” The interactions he could see then among Cody, his mother, his father and his grandparents made Bedenbaugh realize he was recruiting a quality young man with a solid support system. On top of that, Cody’s high school tape as a guard at Pineville High School was outstanding.

“He’s one of those guys who I always thought would be an NFL guy, just the way he played, the mentality he had,” Bedenbaugh said. “His family was awesome — mom, dad, grandparents were great. You knew he was raised the right way and was going to do things right and that would never be an issue. He was awesome in every way. You felt that if he worked hard, which he did, that he would be in this position. ****, when he first got here, coaching him for a couple of days, you knew that this dude would be a big-time player. Everything worked out. It doesn’t always pan out how you hope and how you think as a coach, but this one did.”

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley’s arrival as offensive coordinator coincided with Cody’s in 2015. Therefore, Riley wasn’t involved in Cody’s recruitment. But when he scouted Cody’s tape after the fact, he noticed a mammoth offensive lineman who mauled opponents, just like Papa taught him.

Cody redshirted in 2015, which proved to be the beginning of a tough sequence of events. On Nov. 26, 2015, Papa died. Three days later, Cody wrote a tribute to him on Instagram: “I’m gonna keep you proud and smiling. I miss you already. You taught me a lot of the life lessons I have. You used to yell at me for sitting in your chair. You helped me catch my first fish. Right on my side on signing day and you’ve supported me my entire life. It’s time for you to go now but I know you’re still with me.”

In 2016, Cody, starting at left guard, broke his fibula during Oklahoma’s third game of the season against Ohio State. In 2017, still at guard, Cody started only four of the 12 games he appeared in. He also missed two games that year because of injury.

The 2018 season, however, was starkly different.

Entering spring practice, Riley and Bedenbaugh felt Ford was among the top five linemen on the roster. But Oklahoma already had two entrenched guards in Dru Samia and Ben Powers. While Samia previously played some tackle for the Sooners, neither Riley nor Bedenbaugh wanted to move him back. That spring, the coaches decided to give Ford a look at tackle. Even they couldn’t have predicted what would occur.

“We didn’t know it would turn out like it did,” Bedenbaugh said. “After a couple of practices, you could tell. He was such a big dude and athletic. He’s not your typical length of an offensive tackle. You didn’t know, but he was so hard to go around and get through, and he was so athletic.”

Said Riley: “We put him out there that spring, and it was pretty evident pretty quickly that he was absolutely athletic enough. And he’s such a mauler in the run game that you had that added benefit on the edge. He just became dominant. Through the summer, he really focused in on the tackle position, trimmed some weight off and then came back in camp and was even better than he was in the spring. We knew we had something pretty good. It was a position that was going to fit him just as much as guard did.”

When Riley scouted Cody’s high school film, it would have been tough to predict he’d wind up being among the best tackles in college football. He was a big body at guard, on a high school team that ran the ball a lot. The physicality, strength and toughness were evident.

But to play tackle, players need good movement and athleticism.

“His strength showed up on tape,” Riley said. “The strength was accurate, but the natural athleticism, I don’t think that really showed up on tape like you saw in person. But again, it’s throughout his career, he’s transformed his body. His work ethic has become very, very strong, and he’s continued to gain momentum through his entire career here.”

After dropping roughly 25 to 30 pounds before the start of the 2018 season, Cody started 14 games at right tackle during a campaign that saw the Sooners get back to the College Football Playoff. It was a position move Cody is happy to have made. While most NFL teams are looking at him as a guard, he said he would at least like an opportunity to play tackle.

“It was the best thing that could have happened to me,” he said of the change. “From there on, I just kind of made sure I took that vision seriously. I knew I had to follow people like Orlando Brown’s footsteps, at his tackle position, and I wanted to make sure I upheld the tradition.”

The next level

Before Cody could have declared for the NFL draft, he needed to take care of business in the classroom. It was mandated years ago from his parents and grandparents that Cody would first receive his undergraduate degree before making any sort of decision regarding the NFL.

“He took more hours last semester so he could graduate early in case he was in this position,” Bedenbaugh said. “And if he had to come back, he would’ve started working on a master’s. He’s just a highly motivated kid.”

With his diploma in criminology in hand, and with a first-round grade, Cody made the decision to go pro. And with his size — 6-foot-4 and 329 pounds — and tape, and with what Riley and Bedenbaugh described as an outstanding grasp of the game, Cody appears tailor-made as a plug-and-play lineman in the NFL.

Cody reportedly has taken official-30 visits with the Cincinnati Bengals, holders of the No. 11 overall pick, and the Carolina Panthers, holders of the No. 16 overall selection. The Falcons, who hold the No. 14 overall pick, had their brass visit Oklahoma to put Cody through a private workout, a source confirmed to The Athletic. Atlanta is among the teams looking at Cody as a guard. Considering the Falcons and Panthers are divisional rivals in the NFC South, this dynamic could make draft day interesting if either team leans in Cody’s direction with its first pick.

“I’ve gotten nothing but great feedback from the Falcons,” he said. “Great energy when I’m around them. I feel like it’s always a good time when I meet with the coaches.”

Leah and Robert, who have since moved from Louisiana to Jacksonville, Fla., mentioned how Atlanta would be a nice locale for Cody since it would be within driving distance for them. But, of course, they’re fine with wherever he ends up. His family will travel, no matter the destination.

And regardless of where Cody ends up, Riley believes the team that selects him will be thrilled with the player it gets.

“He doesn’t have a lot of boxes that are going to be empty,” Riley said. “That’s why just about every team would love to have him right now. He’s going to be one of the more prepared guys going in, and a guy who is going to be set up to have immediate success.”

Ready for Nashville

Cody will be one of 23 prospects attending the NFL draft in Nashville next weekend. Bedenbaugh will be among those joining the family for the festivities. For the Ford and Rabalais families, it has been remarkable to see Cody’s focus turn into fruition. Even when they’re born with exceptional physical skills and traits, players need to be motivated to succeed, especially as each level and circumstance becomes tougher.

Since the beginning, Cody has done his part to make his Papa proud.

It’s a bit surreal for the family to see its patriarch’s prediction prove true. Leah said she was chatting with her mother, Sherry Rabalais, Eddie’s widow, just the other day about that moment.

“Remember when they were sitting outside?” Leah recalled Sherry saying. “Your dad told him he would make it one day.”

Cody’s tape at Oklahoma is filled with bruising blocks that don’t finish until the whistle blows. The kind of mauler’s mentality Cody possesses is something he will look to carry with him in the NFL. And with each game and each block, Cody will be thinking of Papa, the one who helped set him on this journey to play football at the highest level.

“He always made sure I was the toughest player on the field,” Cody said. “He would always say I needed to play tougher. He never let me be complacent with my physicality.”


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Love articals like this that really tell you who a player really is, where he comes from and what motivates him. This is your sure-bet OL waiting to happen.

I want a DE/DT for our first pick, but with Hageman now back in the fold to add to all our other signings, I think we might do something else now. If Quinn and TD go after this guy instead, I'm down with it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

26 minutes ago, youngbloodz said:

He is my pick if Oliver isn't. Hopefully we can trade back a little and still get him. I think Cody will be an All Pro guard

I think he would be a good guard as well. Problem is I think TD would be shell shocked when it comes to picking him since he only has 1 full year of playing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

" Cody’s tape at Oklahoma is filled with bruising blocks that don’t finish until the whistle blows. The kind of mauler’s mentality Cody possesses is something he will look to carry with him in the NFL "

Want a tone-setter? Cody Ford is a Hammer looking for a nail...and all the defensive players are nails. On tape he is destroying folks.

He is an OT. Straight up no question about it. With an athletic mauler beside him (Lindstrom?) our right side run game and pulling power game would be FEARED.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...