Cody Getz understands patience.
He understands how to trot quietly behind his quarterback, waiting for the option pitch to come at the last agonizing second. He understands how to idle quietly for a moment while the wave of blockers rolls forward in front of him, knocking everything in its path askew, before he carves his way through the organized chaos.
Air Force’s diminutive bundle of speed and acceleration and agility spent much of his first three years on the sidelines, growing familiar with patience – the silent tormentor that would become his biggest ally.
“These past three years have been a real big learning experience,” Getz said. “I just had to wait my turn. All the hard work has paid off and now it’s time to have fun and play football.”
Getz, a senior, averaged only 20 carries per season through his first three years at Air Force, and spent many Saturday afternoons on special teams. But when the Falcons squared off against Idaho State in their first game this season, Getz got his hands on the ball 17 times. It was finally his turn to be the featured back in the team’s intricately choreographed triple-option attack. He ran for 218 yards and three scores that day – a performance that later proved to be no fluke.
The 5-foot-7, 175-pound running back would eclipse 100 yards in each of Air Force’s first five games, three times carrying the ball for more than 200. Despite inexperience and surrendering 30-to-50 pounds to most of the nation’s elite backs, he found himself second nationally in yards per game and his more than eight yards per carry were best among featured backs. He hadn’t let a three-year wait or a small stature encumber his success, and will now need to overcome an injured ankle that forced him to miss the better part of three games if he wants his improbable tale to finish how it started.
“He has a heart that won’t quit,” Jason Kons, an Air Force senior offensive tackle, told the Colorado Springs Gazette after the victory against Idaho State.
|3||Jordan Lynch||Northern Illinois||185||134.2|
|5||Giovani Bernard||North Carolina||126||132.9|
|7||Kasey Carrier||New Mexico||189||128.4|
|8||Le’Veon Bell||Michigan State||283||124.9|
|13||Antonio Andrews||Western Kentucky||190||117.0|
|14||Joseph Randle||Oklahoma State||175||116.8|
|15||Braxton Miller||Ohio State||184||116.6|
Getz grew accustomed to the spotlight, and amassing gobs of yardage, when he was in the backfield on a pair of state championship teams at Buford (Ga.) High School. He was the centerpiece; he was the running back who was named the state’s 2A offensive player of the year because he sprinted through gaping holes that several SEC-bound offensive linemen opened for him. He spurned preferred walk-on offers from SEC powers Florida and Georgia as well as interest from schools in the FCS’s Southern Conference. He turned away baseball scouts, who suggested he might have an immediate route to professional athletics.
Instead, he’d be patient, he’d take the full-ride at Air Force knowing he’d have to bide his time to see the field again and that his life at a military academy would be laden with discipline and devoid of much of the frivolity he could’ve enjoyed if he’d kept following those linemen all the way to the SEC.
“At the beginning of my time here, you kind of regretted your decision, but as time has gone on and I’ve grown up and just gotten through everything, it’s really made me grow as a person and I don’t regret coming here one bit,” he said. “It’s made me grow up a lot faster than a lot of my peers have.”
His introduction to the Air Force Academy came via six weeks of basic training. The rigors of military life and a difficult curriculum haven’t waned with time – he maintains that grueling football practices are the part of his day he relishes most. For three years, he endured that life while waiting behind running back Asher Clark, who eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his last two seasons with the Falcons. And while the triple-option team has had a slew of good ballcarriers, Getz was having a better season than any Air Force running back in more than a decade – before the injury, he was easily on pace to best either of Clark’s stellar seasons. Despite getting only 10 carries against Wyoming when he was injured, missing a pair of games and struggling when he returned against Army last week, Getz’s 118.9 rushing yards per game still stands 11th nationally.
“Really, the only hope we had there for a while was maybe that running back would cramp up, take himself out,” Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain told the Denver Post after Getz took 25 carries for 222 yards in a 42-21 Air Force win on Sept. 29.
Of the 951 yards Getz has amassed this season, he remembers eight the most vividly. With Air Force trailing by 11 early in the fourth quarter of a Sept. 8 game in Ann Arbor, he took a pitch near the right sideline from quarterback Connor Dietz. Linebacker Desmond Morgan had a clean path to Getz, who he outweighs by a full 50 pounds, but the quick tailback planted his right leg and, in a graceful explosion, cut hard upfield to his left. Morgan only managed to graze Getz with his fingertips before he toppled. Two more Wolverines had angles on Getz in the race to the goal line, but a flurry of quick steps and a leap propelled him into the maize-lettered end zone before they could drag him down. He remembers the crowd that day. It grew hushed and felt the tingles of an upset creeping up its spine when he crossed that plane for the third time.
Air Force was ultimately outmatched that day, and the moment – the juke, the score, the silence – will matter little if the Falcons can’t make a push for the Mountain West crown and a bowl berth, Getz said. At 5-4 with only one conference loss, those team goals are still well within reach. But this weekend, Getz and the Falcons will be tested by a San Diego State team that boasts a top-30 rushing defense after recently upseting Boise State on the road.
Getz will have to shake off any lingering effects from the injury and once again churn for hundreds of yards if Air Force is going to meet its goals. The moment in Michigan, the 200-yard games against Colorado State, Idaho State and Navy are all distant memories, he claimed. Getz said he shies away from looking at stats or reading about himself, but if the team finishes strong, then, maybe, he’ll allow a little time for reflection on his personal achievements and the team’s success.
Until then, though, Getz will keep relying on the virtue he knows best: he’ll be patiently waiting for the pitch to fall into his arms, patiently waiting for his blockers to spring their traps and patiently waiting for his team to achieve all it has set out to do.
“I could’ve done all those great things at the beginning of the season, but if I don’t produce towards the end and we don’t accomplish what we want as a team, then the season was a failure in my mind,” Getz said.
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