Former North East kicker Cody Waddell came to his mother at church one day while playing for the Indians and tearfully spoke after one of her Sunday School lessons.
“I can’t see my dreams anymore,” Cody told Brandee Waddell. “I want to play Division I football.”
In a classic tale of where there is a will, their is a way, Cody embarked on a long journey that led to realizing those dreams, culminating with being the backup punter for nationally-ranked Michigan State in the 2021 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Dec. 31. The Spartans went on to win the game 31-21. Cody now sets his sights on a tryout with the National Football League.
Waddell’s journey took many twists and turns, starting with Waddell approaching a coach at North East High School in 2014 when the team needed a kicker. It was a whole new experience for Cody, who did not begin playing organized football until North East High School.
“I told them I could do it,” Waddell recalled. “They said ‘make three in a row’.”
To earn the job, Waddell did just that. As he prepared for college, Waddell was lacking an ACT or SAT score, so he next found his way to Palmetto Prep Academy in South Carolina where he kicked for one year. It was there that he began to punt after being a safety/kicker in high school.
“I talked to their coach and told him about Cody,” Brandee Waddell recalled. “He said ‘I was just sitting here praying for a kicker.’”
“He was very hyper and the school didn’t see him as someone that would be made for college,” Waddell said. “He didn’t take the ACT or SAT in high school.”
Waddell’s punting skills did not amount to a big offer just yet, but he earned a ACT score and spent time practicing his test taking skills during his one season with Palmetto Prep. After Palmetto, Waddell began a job in construction.
Cody was faithful to his dreams and kept working hard on his kicking skills, and one day got a call while on a construction site.
A coach from Lincoln College in Oxford, Pa. was on the line and offered Waddell a chance to come kick for the Lions.
A couple of seasons (2016-2017) punting for the Lions landed him on the NCAA Division II All-American team while also being named Freshman of the Year for special teams. Waddell soon found his way deep into the heart of Texas.
A coach at Lincoln University knew some coaches at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Tx. and Waddell was soon on his way to get a chance at punting in the Big 12 Conference.
He was set to become a preferred walk-on but, when coach Kliff Kingsbury left for the NFL, Coach Luke Wells and an entirely new staff came on board. Waddell waited his turn for two years trying out as walk-on and keeping his grades in check. He soon got the opportunity on the team, but with a solid punter already in place, the kicker room was crowded. Waddell wanted to be in a place where he could have a great shot at seeing the field.
“I went to the coaches and told them I wanted to go somewhere I could play,” Waddell said. “They understood that.”
After graduating from Texas Tech with good grades, Waddell was set to become a graduate transfer in 2020.
He also got a chance to go to California and learn from one of the best kicking schools in America at Aaron Perez’s The Punt Factory, which gave him a recommendation that many kickers and punters in the college game seek.
Waddell found his way to East Lansing, Michigan and was on a Michigan State Spartan team that finished 11-2 overall and third in the uber-competitive Big 10 Conference.
“Things just kept getting more amazing,” Waddell’s mother said. “Just every step of the way it was more and more exciting.”
For his part, Waddell said his one season with the Spartans was special on levels outside of the bowl game experience and the “phenomenal week” of practice the team had leading up to the game.
Waddell cited the win over rival Michigan, eventually Big 10 champions and College Football Playoff participant, as a huge highlight of the season.
Brandee and husband Eric, along with Cody’s fiancee Maddison Tate and her parents Jeff and Shelly Tate as well as sister Kennlee, all traveled to Atlanta for the bowl game after years of watching both in person and television.
“It was so exciting,” Brandee said. “It was like the Super Bowl.”
Waddell’s grandparents, Wayne and Robin Waddell of Elkton, have been some of Cody’s biggest fans over the years. Wayne works at the local Martin Honda dealership, while Robin is a retired nurse and Assistant Director of the Cecil County Health Department.
“Every time he would be on TV, it would just be so exciting,” said Wayne Waddell. “We were so proud every time.”
With the end of his collegiate career, Waddell will head to California for the NFL Draft Combine and will participate in the upcoming Pro Day at Michigan State in hopes of catching the eye of NFL Scouts ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft, which will be held April 28-30.
“I am just going to go out and give my best,” Waddell said. “If it is God’s will then he will continue to open doors.”
It was a lot of doors opened on a journey spanning an entire country. A roller coaster of emotions and hard days along with joyous ones.
“You just look back on journey,” Cody said. “And God kept opening doors that you never thought could be opened. Just look at how far God has brought me.”