Cody Cunningham’s football career at Carson High could be best termed as up and down.
The senior linebacker started in the state semifinals as a sophomore, missed his entire junior season as a result of a wrestling injury, and he was inserted into the starting lineup at middle linebacker two weeks ago and he has made his presence felt in a big way.
Cunningham responded to his promotion with 32 tackles in wins over Galena (19) and Bishop Manogue (13), and he’s hoping to keep up his double-digit tackle streak going when the Senators (3-0, 6-2) visit rival Douglas (1-2, 2-6) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“I’ve been making good reads and getting to the ball,” Cunningham said. “I’m just trying to play with a lot of intensity. I get the boys fired up. I’m having a lot of fun.
“I want to get in on 20 tackles against Douglas. I just need to go out and do my job. We can’t take any team lightly, especially Douglas. We want to finish the regular season with a win.”
Needless to say, defensive coordinator Bob Bateman and head coach Blair Roman have been pleased with Cunningham’s play at middle linebacker.
Cunningham was part of a big defensive overhaul. Middle linebacker Brady Rivera was moved to defensive tackle, Cunningham went to middle linebacker, Nolan Shine went from strong safety/linebacker to outside linebacker, Asa Carter took Shine’s old strong safety/linebacker slot and Joey Thurman took over at free safety, and is a two-way starter.
“He (Cunningham) has added a new dimension to our defense that we didn’t have before,” said Bateman. “He’s more comfortable playing between the tackles. He doesn’t play well in space which you have to do if you’re playing on the outside. He goes downhill very well. He’s very aggressive. He takes people on. He is instinctive.”
“He doesn’t play the game laterally,” Roman said. “He’s not making tackles four, five or six yards past the line of scrimmage. He gets downhill. He’s just a super aggressive kid who wants to go sick’em.”
Cunningham plays with the ferocity of a Dick Butkus or Jack Lambert. There isn’t a single ounce of finesse in his game. He plays the game with a slight bit of nastiness, too, and that’s a trait most middle linebackers have. He does, however, let his mouth run amuck at times, and that’s something he’s working hard at curtailing.
“I have such a hard time with that,” Cunningham admitted. “I have top learn to not react to things with my mouth, because I know I’m hurting the team when I get a penalty and I don’t want to do that.”
His aggressiveness came out in his younger years on the soccer field. He didn’t play football until he got to Carson High.
“I played soccer up to eighth grade,” Cunningham said. “I was always getting red-carded. My dad thought I should play football, so I tried football and loved it.”
The decision to move Cunningham to the middle might have been made during summer camp, but Cunningham missed summer ball for personal reasons, and if you aren’t around for summer ball at CHS, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Cunningham understood that. He is just happy that the Senators welcomed him back with open arms once his problems were resolved.
“Brady had earned the right to start first of all,” Roman said. “We didn’t see the progress we were hoping for out of Brady. We wanted to put Brady in position where he could succeed, and we’re really happy with how he’s playing at defensive tackle.”
”Even though I understood the situation, it was hard,” Cunningham said. “I just kept working hard hoping for my chance in the middle. That’s where I feel the most comfortable. I started my freshman and sophomore year in the middle. I got the position I’ve wanted to play; my natural position.”
Even though Cunningham is at full strength, you have to wonder how much his wrestling injury affected his progress. Cunningham is the first to admit that it was mostly time lost, and you can’t get time back.
After starting at linebacker in the 2011 state semifinals (49-0 loss to Reed), Cunningham shifted his attention to wrestling. Midway through the wrestling season, Cunningham suffered an injury to his left shoulder.
“I went to a doctor who said I had separated my AC joint,” Cunningham said. “He said it would take six months to heal. Then I broke my finger. While I was there, Dr. Eisenhower (not the original doctor) looked at my shoulder. He did an MRI where you inject dye.
“It turned out I had a torn rotator cuff, torn labrum and a bicep tear. I had to have surgery, and I was out nine months on top of that.”
The injury obviously forced him to miss the rest of his sophomore wrestling season as well as his junior football and wrestling seasons.
“It was tough,” Cunningham admitted. “Sitting on the sidelines every game and watching, especially with the season we had (winless in league). You start to wonder whether you could have made a difference.”