Jud Keim needed to pause. Although the event happened more than two years ago, the memory was coming back into focus.
“I get choked up thinking about it,” Keim said.
Football practice was wrapping up just four days before Pacific Lutheran University’s 2010 season opener when an urgent phone call came into campus.
There was a family emergency. Cody Pohren, the team’s fullback, needed to be located. Keim, assistant head coach and running backs coach for the Lutes, remembers the helpless feeling of watching a solitary figure on the football field taking the most difficult phone call of his young life.
He then recalled the emotion of watching players, who learned that Pohren’s father had been mortally injured in an accident, huddle around their teammate on the sideline to offer comfort.
“The entire football field ran over and literally gave him a massive group hug,” Keim said. “He was still on the phone with his sister.”
There is little statistically that will grab one’s attention about Cody Pohren on the PLU football roster.
However, as the Lutes prepare to tackle rival Puget Sound today at Baker Stadium, there’s no disputing the value of the role he’s played on the team.
Now a senior, Pohren has been an inspiration to teammates not only in how he’s bounced back from his father’s death, but also from the physical strength and toughness he’s shown on the field as a lead blocker and ballcarrier.
“Every time Cody gets the ball at the end of the game, I get excited,” said Court Knoblauch, the Lutes’ senior center. “I see him carry two or three people on his back. As an offensive lineman, it’s very motivating.”
Keim calls Pohren, a 6-foot, 200-pounder, the most unusual running back he’s seen in 20 years of coaching.
“When you give him the ball, his ability to find the creases and seams, bend his body, skinny up and get through the line of scrimmage is as unique and explosive as anyone I’ve ever seen,” Keim said. “If you need 3 yards, regardless of how the play is blocked, Cody will get it.”
Pohren’s value was never more evident than in the Lutes’ game-clinching 18-play, 99-yard drive against previously unbeaten Willamette last week.
With PLU clinging to a 34-27 lead, Pohren carried the ball four times for 23 yards during the fourth quarter drive that ate up nearly 10 minutes and resulted in a touchdown as the Lutes (4-2 overall, 3-1 Northwest Conference) won, 41-27, for their third consecutive victory.
On the season, Pohren has carried the ball only 27 times for 118 yards and two scores. His 4.4-yard-per-carry average is second best on the team behind Brandon James (5.4).
“The value of the runs he’s had is off the charts,” Keim said. “He’s been our closer in tighter games. He keeps the chains moving.”
Pohren attributes his mental toughness and explosive running style to his days as a state champion wrestler in Skagit County.
He lived in Mount Vernon, attended state wrestling power Sedro-Woolley High School and placed at state four times for the Cubs. In 2009, he and his sister, Alysia, became Washington’s first brother-sister combination to win state titles. His sister went on to win two more.
Pohren said he plays football in the same aggressive style in which he wrestled.
“Most of my matches ended with pins in the first or second round,” Pohren said. “I’d go out there and get the job done real fast and get out of there. In football, you do the same thing. Being a running back, you have a quick four or five seconds when a play is happening and it’s just explosion.”
Pohren, who once rushed for 345 yards for Sedro-Woolley during Mount Vernon’s homecoming, said he embraces his role with PLU and is grateful for the bonds he’s developed with teammates and coaches on the Parkland campus.
He said his parents, Kent and Laurie, have always been his biggest fans, so losing his dad two years ago was a blow that took time to heal. His dad, who had fought brain cancer, died from injuries sustained when he fell from a ladder at home in Mount Vernon while raising an American flag four days before Sept. 11.
“I didn’t really know Cody before (his father died),” said Chris Edison, PLU’s junior left guard. “After that I started hanging out with him. It really united us. A lot of football teams preach about family. At PLU, we actually live it. It’s really unique here.”
“That was what really sealed the deal for me,” Pohren said. “Owning up to this program and knowing that I have their support and they support me in times like this, I was going to be there for them.”