In his first year as a starter, Cody O'Connell has become WSU's second-ever unanimous All-American
With his selection to the American Football Coaches Association’s All-America team Wednesday morning, Washington State’s Cody O’Connell completed a rare feat.
O’Connell, 22, became just the second WSU football player in school history behind kicker Jason Hanson in 1989 to become a unanimous All-American selection.
To become a unanimous All-American, a player has to be named a first team All-American by five specific outlets: The AFCA, the Sporting News, the Walter Camp Football Foundation, the Associated Press, and the Football Writers Association of America.
Recognition as a unanimous All-American tops a dream debut season for O’Connell, who has just completed his first regular season as WSU’s starter at left guard.
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The 6-foot-8, 354-pound Wenatchee native played every game for WSU this year, starting 11, and, last week, finished as one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy that goes to the nation’s top interior lineman.
“It was cool and all, but I didn’t care that much,” O’Connell said of his selection as an Outland Trophy finalist. “It’s more seen by me as something our entire offensive line gets, a testament to how hard they’ve worked.”
O’Connell, a redshirt junior, has been named to 10 All-America first teams so far, but, surprisingly — much to the outrage of many Cougars fans who’ve shown their displeasure on social media — he only merited honorable mention honors on the Pac-12’s All-Conference team.
“I think other people reacted worse than we did,” WSU offensive line coach Clay McGuire said when asked about the Pac-12’s snub of O’Connell. “It’s nothing we can control, there’s nothing we can do about it. It sounds preposterous and it sounds crazy, but it is what it is. I’d rather be on the All-America than the All-Conference team.”
O’Connell, who has been nicknamed “The Continent” by WSU coach Mike Leach, helped protect for WSU quarterback Luke Falk and the nation’s second-leading passing offense (370.8 yards per game) while blocking for a rushing attack that owns seven 100-yard efforts, including three 200-yard performances.
The Cougars’ rushing offense averaged 126.8 yards per game this season — a significant increase from the 80.1 yards per game they managed in 2015.
O’Connell was recently acknowledged by Pro Football Focus as one of the best guards in the country. He has sound fundamentals and is considered proficient at both run blocking and pass protection, but his sheer strength stands out as one of his best assets.
“He can generate a lot of torque,” McGuire said. “His arms are like four feet long, and there’s a lot of snap and power when he gets to extension point. You’ll see him in a game hit a guy and he goes flying.”
Despite his success this year, O’Connell is still something of a work in progress.
The Continent says he’s worked hard on his hands and his footwork this season, and McGuire would like him to enhance his start off the ball.
“He can be more explosive out of his stance off the ball, and he can get better in the screen game,” said McGuire, who also wants O’Connell to get lower with his pad level. “With him being 6-8, his pad level is different than other kids. So if he can get under there, that can make a real difference.”