Just four years after putting down a tennis racquet and walking away from a potential college career in that sport, Cody Orgeron is ready to blaze another path as the starting quarterback for McNeese State — which opens its season against Southern on Saturday night. And his dad, Ed Orgeron, couldn’t be more thrilled.
Like a lot of first-time fathers, Ed Orgeron was living the dream early on the morning of Feb. 9, 1998.
Orgeron’s wife, Kelly, had just delivered the couple’s twin boys, who would soon be named Cody and Parker, and their proud papa was already thinking about the competitive sports they would play growing up.
Would it be baseball? Basketball?
Or better yet, football — the sport Orgeron loved and excelled in at South Lafourche High School and Northwestern State and has now coached at the highest levels for more than half his 58 years on earth?
But there was one other direction he couldn’t have seen coming that winter day as he jetted across the country from his new job at USC to Syracuse, New York, to be with wife Kelly and their new babies.
Tennis wasn’t even a thought for the then 36-year-old Orgeron, who actually wasn’t thinking about sports that afternoon when he cradled the twins in his huge forearms for the first time.
“When I saw their eyes, my whole life changed,” Orgeron recalled recently.
Ten years after that joyous day, Cody and Parker, who played all sports while their dad was on Pete Carroll’s staff at USC and when Orgeron was the head coach at Ole Miss, gravitated more toward football in Mandeville.
The family had moved there after Orgeron was hired as the Saints defensive line coach by Sean Payton and the twins had a successful run for a couple of years playing football at Pelican Park — Cody as the quarterback and Parker as a receiver.
While Parker picked up the football bug, it didn’t take long for little Cody, who was only about 5 feet, 6 inches when he entered Mandeville High in the fall of 2012, to figure out that football wasn’t in his immediate future.
Ed Orgeron remembers his first college football game vividly.
So Cody Orgeron gave it up after sixth grade and decided to pick up tennis, a sport in which his mother excelled as a USTA state champion in Arkansas and Louisiana.
“I would go and watch my mom and her friends play doubles and stuff … they had a lot of fun and I enjoyed watching it,” he said. “I picked up a racquet when I was out there with her, and it just felt right. I fell in in love with it and ran off with it for a few years.”
While it was obvious early that he had a lot of natural ability as a tennis player, Cody Orgeron never completely turned his back on football — even as his game improved.
He would spend one day with Ed Orgeron in his office, watching football tape and studying Xs and Os, and the next day he’d be with Kelly on the tennis courts.
Over the next few years, especially when he started high school, Cody Orgeron became more and more accomplished in tennis.
He won two state qualifying tournaments on the highly-competitive junior USTA circuit, a proving ground for potential collegians and aspiring pros much like summer AAU basketball and travel ball in baseball.
The hard work Orgeron put in and competition he faced paid off as a freshman at Mandeville.
He and doubles partner Silvio Cocito-Monoc, who is a member of the UL tennis team, won the Division I state championship in straight sets over a duo that had won three in a row.
The next season, after Cocito-Monoc transferred to a new school, Orgeron claimed the LHSAA state singles title — again winning in straight sets.
If Ed Orgeron was dismayed with his young son’s choice of sports, he didn’t show it.
“No, not at all,” Cody Orgeron said when asked if there was any disappointment over his decision. “My dad always told me and Parker and (step-brother) Tyler our whole lives that we should play whatever sport we wanted to play.
“We were never forced to play football, and he told us he’d be fully behind us. … Deep down, I’m sure he wanted me to play football. But he told us to play whatever sport was wanted to play.”
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That didn’t stop Ed, however, from needling young Cody about it every now and then.
“He would make little sly comments here and there, but I know he was just joking,” he recalled. “He was always the most amazing dad behind me in tennis.”
Ed Orgeron said he remembered Cody was extremely nervous the first time he went to see him play, so he tried to break the ice by asking him when they would sing the national anthem.
“He said, ‘Daddy, we don’t sing the national anthem in tennis,’” Ed Orgeron said with a hearty laugh.
Cody then asked Kelly Orgeron to tell his dad not to yell during the match — and Ed obeyed.
“I sat there and I found a new love for tennis,” Ed Orgeron said. “I saw the competitiveness in him.”
“I don’t think Ed understood what it took to play USTA tennis,” Kelly Orgeron said. “The competitiveness was the thing. Once he saw Cody competing like that, he was fine with it.”
After growing six inches between his sophomore and junior years, Cody Orgeron started thinking about joining the football team to play with Parker, a member of coach Guy Lecompte’s program since entering high school.
Together, Parker and Ed finally got Cody to go out for the team in the spring of 2015.
“It was really my brother and my dad, but it was Parker the whole time,” Cody Orgeron said. “Parker played quarterback a few games as a junior and he was always telling me, ‘C’mon man, we need you … I know you can do it.’ He was always in my ear about it.”
When Lecompte approached him in front of the entire Orgeron family during a 7-on-7 tournament and asked him to play, it was finally time.
“I was fired up!” Ed Orgeron said in his booming, gravelly voice.
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“Long story short, it just felt like it was right,” Cody Orgeron said. “I had three really important voices in my ear telling me to do something. I prayed on it, and it all worked out.”
In his only season of high school ball, Cody Orgeron won the starting quarterback job and threw for 2,200 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 64.4 percent of his pass attempts.
He was named the team's offensive MVP while combining with Parker to lead Mandeville to the Class 5A semifinals.
When Parker received a scholarship offer to play wide receiver at McNeese State, where their dad was an assistant coach in 1985, Cody went along as a walk-on quarterback.
Buried on the depth chart with five quarterbacks in front of him, Cody Orgeron redshirted as a freshman and then got three snaps the next season.
But he started three games a year ago and saw spot duty in eight others before winning the starting job this spring under first-year coach Sterlin Gilbert.
Gilbert, a former offensive coordinator at three FBS schools, installed a spread, up-tempo offense that suits Cody Orgeron’ skill set as a dual-threat quarterback perfectly.
“It’s a whole different mindset this year,” Orgeron said. “This offseason, I had to attack it with a whole different mentality. I know this offense … I have to be the engine for this offense.”
While he won’t be throwing to Parker, who had to give up football after suffering repeated concussions in his three seasons and is a student-coach for the Cowboys, Cody will rely on his ability to operate Gilbert’s spread attack.
Listed at 6-1 and 177 pounds, he’ll be using some of the skills that made him a promising young tennis player just a few years ago.
“He has an understanding of the offense, but having the ability to escape and make plays with his feet are the things you like,” Gilbert said this summer. “If something breaks down, he’s athletic enough to maneuver and go make a play.”
“Tennis absolutely helped me with my feet and footwork, getting out of the pocket, my agility, being in shape," Cody Orgeron said. “It’s been a blessing. … Obviously, I’m not the biggest quarterback around and I’m not the strongest. I’m just a ball player.”
A football player.