Nov. 21, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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BOULDER, Colo. -- Cody Bruns caught a short pass from Keith Price inside the Colorado 5-yard line last weekend. The ultra-resilient, do-it-all receiver/punt returner/holder/inspirational leader turned his shoulders for the goal line. Then he hurtled himself across it with a head-first dive.
So what that there wasn't a defender in the same zip code?
Swan dive? Nestea plunge? Whatever. After all Bruns has gone through during five years of despair, death and determination, he deserved to punctuate his first career receiving touchdown any way he wanted.
"I wanted to make sure I got in," he said with a sheepish grin outside the visitors' locker room at Folsom Field here last Saturday, minutes after the Huskies won their fourth in a row, 38-3 at Colorado.
Fellow fifth-year senior safety Justin Glenn approved of Bruns' dive.
"He wanted to get in there," Glenn said. "That was cool he did."
He and center Drew Schaefer have lived with Bruns since they came to UW together on their official recruiting visits about a half-dozen years ago. They've lived in the dorms together as freshmen while enduring the winless season in 2008. They've lived together in multiple apartments off campus since, first as they've absorbed a regime change in 2009 with incoming coach Steve Sarkisian then as they helped lead the revitalization of the program that is now on the brink of its first eight-win season since 2001.
So Glenn and Schaefer knew the touchdown at Colorado meant far more than a first-half score in a mid-November game.
"My man Cody Bruns ...," Glenn says, "I'm really happy for him."
Friday is Bruns final regular-season game as a Husky, in the 105th Apple Cup at Washington State. Even though Pullman is about a three-hour drive east across the Palouse from where he set state high-school receiving records in Prosser, he is calling this his final homecoming as a football player.
Take every practice like it's you last - because it really is.
"Yeah, definitely. Take every practice like it's you last - because it really is," he said. "I have two games left, with the bowl game. Just enjoy it.
"Going back home to Wazzu, that will be awesome."
A REDSHIRT FOR HIS MOTHER - AND HIS LATE FATHER
Bruns was supposed to be done playing football for Washington by now. But the biggest loss of his life kept him a Husky.
As the Tacoma News Tribune detailed earlier this month, Cody's father Bucky felt sick in July 2011. When Cody was in fourth grade Bucky Bruns, a legendary three-sport star in the 1960s at Prosser High School and known as "Mr. Prosser," had his gall bladder, his duodenum and parts of his bile duct and pancreas removed.
Pain returned in July 2011, just as his only son was preparing for his senior preseason camp at UW. Rather than go to a hospital, Bruns' father tried to rest at home. He died there in his sleep.
Cody got the out-of-nowhere news from Huskies assistant athletic trainer for football Rob Scheidegger, because his mother Pam couldn't bear breaking the news to her son. Crushed, Cody went home for a couple weeks then returned to Seattle to begin fall camp that August. But he could barely function through practices and meetings.
Finally, he approached Sarkisian and wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty at the same time they were approaching him about using the redshirt season that Bruns never got to use in 2008, unlike his roommates Glenn and Schaefer. The former coaching staff burned Bruns' redshirt during the second half of a 48-14 loss at Arizona in October of that winless season.
Then last summer, during the toughest weeks of his life, Bruns decided to use that redshirt year. For his mom as much as for his dad.
Quitting football was not an option. Re-prioritizing it last year was.
"I wasn't the same. I wasn't feeling like camp was going well," he said. "Coach Sark and Coach Dougherty were there by my side the whole time. We had talks. It kind of built up. And we came to the conclusion that it was the best thing, as camp wore on.
"Things didn't feel right, trying to play through it."
Sarkisian supported Bruns going home to Prosser to be there for his mother. Cody said he left preseason camp for a couple days "to help my mom, just kind of hang out. Do some things around the house.
When he returned to the Huskies as a redshirting senior, his mind was clear. He embraced a secondary, scout-team role for the 2011 season while his attention stayed on mom back home. His team-first personality flourished even though he never played. He was so good running the opposing teams' plays - sometimes as the other team's versatile quarterback - he won the Bob Jarvis Award as UW's offensive scout-team MVP.
We've had a lot of ups and downs, but it's given me a chance to play my senior season the way I'd want to, with a clear mind.
It was then, while practicing and suiting up for the Huskies but not playing for the first time since he began the sport as a tyke back in Prosser, that he realized of the Huskies: "These guys are like family."
"I came back and ... we've had a lot of ups and downs, but it's given me a chance to play my senior season the way I'd want to, with a clear mind," Bruns said.
"OUR MR. UTILITY"
There are three, on-field moments by No. 7 in purple that epitomize Cody Bruns the football player -- and the person.
Two years ago in the Apple Cup, the last time UW played in Pullman, Bruns broke his clavicle during a 35-28 win that clinched the Huskies' first bowl appearance in eight years. A little more than three weeks later, Bruns was back in his trusted position as place-kick holder as Washington walloped heavily favored Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
Imagine not only playing in a football game three weeks after breaking the primary bone that supports your shoulders, but merely strapping shoulder pads onto that fractured clavicle then subjecting it to onrushing Cornhuskers. I mean, it's not like he slapped a Band-Aid on it and was good to go.
A play no one will ever be able to find in a box score or even a game play-by-play list is also Cody Bruns:
Last month against Oregon State, he scrapped at the bottom of a pile, buried beneath 1,000-plus pounds of Huskies and Beavers.
For a play that didn't even count.
UW freshman teammate Kendyl Taylor had just fumbled at the goal line. Bruns, rushing across the field from his wide-receiver spot, saw the ball bounding into the Beavers' end zone first and dived head-long onto the soggy CenturyField turf. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Bruns then held onto the ball as all Hades broke loose on him.
Where didn't he get poked at the bottom of that pile?
"Yeah. They were gettin' me," Bruns said through a big laugh. "Yeah, they were definitely trying to get that ball. I got gouged in the eye. I got fish hooked in the mouth - other places I don't really want to talk about.
"I just held onto it."
Bruns' recovery would have been a Huskies' touchdown had a replay review by the officials not concluded Taylor's knee had hit the turf before he fumbled. The ball was ruled down outside the end zone. The Huskies scored on the next play in their eventual 20-17 victory over the No. 7 Beavers.
That's the type of "trust" play that has defined Bruns' blue-collar, mostly unsung UW career.
When the Huskies absolutely have to get a clean catch of a punt to seize great field position, who they call upon? Bruns.
The holder for Travis Coons' game-winning, 30-yard field goal with 80 seconds left against Oregon State? Bruns.
He's completed a pass, for 38-yards to Jermaine Kearse against California in 2009. He's rushed on end arounds.
"It's just all that," Sarkisian said when asked about how much he trusts Bruns.
"Cody is our Mr. Utility. He plays every wide receiver position. He's our holder. He's our emergency punter. He could play quarterback if we needed him to. And he's a senior who understands that this is the last go-around, that every play matters, every play counts.
"We saw that on the fumble by Kendyl. He's playing with such great effort, and he's under that dog pile and he gets his face scratched up - and he comes out of there with it. I love that about him."
It's a credit to Sarkisian that, one, he recognizes Bruns' value to his program far beyond all he does on game days; and, two, that the coach has increased Bruns' role in his final weeks as a Husky.
It feels like a deserved reward.
With freshman Marvin Hall injured, Bruns has recently become the primary punt returner rather than just a fair-catch specialist. He had a 31-yard return at California on Nov. 2 and a 27-yard one last month against USC. He swerved through traffic on a 13-yard return of a Colorado punt last week to get the Huskies out of a deep field-position hole. That set up the drive to his first career TD catch.
That also set up my third favorite Bruns moment.
Immediately after Price threw the pass for Bruns' milestone touchdown - on a play in which Sarkisian made Bruns the primary receiver knowing it was likely going to be open for a score against the nation's 106th-ranked pass defense -- the receiver sought out the quarterback on the sidelines.
"He came up and thanked me," Price said, impressed.
I mean, c'mon, how many receivers today thank their quarterback for throwing to him?
Man, that guy has been through so much. I'm just proud of him. I'm happy for him. He deserved it.
"And I kind of thanked him," Price said.
"Man, that guy has been through so much. I'm just proud of him. I'm happy for him. He deserved it."
Sarkisian also smiled while talking about Bruns' score.
"We are just trying to keep him involved. ... And I think Cody is playing with a great deal of confidence right now. It is really cool to see a guy in his senior year playing his best football he has played since he has been here.
"I'm happy for him that he's having some success his senior year, after a long, long ride. I couldn't be happier for him.
"He is an awesome kid."
AWESOME KID, FOR HIRE
Off the field, Bruns takes particular pleasure in ribbing Schaefer, the most exacting, meticulous and intense of the three roommates. One of Bruns' favorite pranks is to sit in the big lineman's favorite living-room chair, a comfy one that was a gift to players last winter from the Alamo Bowl.
"Drew and Justin. It's gone by fast. Like everyone says, it's a quick trip," Bruns says. "Yeah, it's been great. We look back, we've been through a lot so we can all relate to each other. It helps having those guys around.
"We've been through so much, especially from where we were when we first got here. I've created a great bond with them. They will be two of my best friends for the rest of my life."
As for that time after UW, it's just about here. Bruns has already walked in graduation ceremonies with a communications degree.
I asked him what he may want to do with that once this season ends in the next month or so.
"Not sure," he said.
"We done this for five years, on sort of a strict schedule - be here, be there. Now you are going to find yourself in the world. It's going to definitely be a transition.
"So if anybody wants to give me a job," he added with a chuckle, "January is coming pretty quick."
Hey, if you are an employer out there you could do a lot worse than to hire Cody Bruns.
And that has nothing to do with football.
"It's been a crazy ride. But when it's all said and done I will look back and enjoy it and have no regrets," he says, smiling to show satisfaction with a job and a UW career well done.
"It's definitely shaped me into the person I am today. I wouldn't change anything."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.