He was dubbed the next Logan Mankins, ticketed to follow the NFL All-Pro as Fresno State’s next great secret out of tiny Mariposa High.
Offensive lineman Cody Wichmann dealt with those comparisons almost from the moment then-Bulldogs coach Pat Hill took notice of a rough-and-tumble high schooler at a summer camp. The rest of the college football world mostly ignored him — just as it did 10 years earlier with Mankins.
“I heard a lot of that in the beginning — you’re going to become the next Logan Mankins,” Wichmann said. “It kind of died down later in my career. But it’s always nice to be compared to a great player. We share a lot in common.”
It was Mankins who forged the path as a lightly recruited prospect out of the rural community in the Sierra Nevada foothills. He developed into an NFL first-round pick and a six-time Pro Bowler. At one point, he was considered the top offensive tackle in football.
That left a Half Dome-size shadow for Wichmann to work in his whole career. But as his time at Fresno State nears an end, the senior quietly has put together one of the most durable careers of any player in recent Bulldogs history.
Wichmann will make his 50th and final start when Fresno State plays Rice at the Hawaii Bowl on Wednesday in Honolulu. He has never missed a game and will stand second behind linebacker Ben Jacobs (2007-2010) and his 52 career starts, breaking a tie with offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (2004-07), among Bulldogs players of the past eight years.
“Cody’s started a lot games and been part of a lot of wins,” third-year offensive line coach Cameron Norcross said. “Just quietly done his job, worked his tail off and didn’t say a word. He’s what we’re all about.”
Ironically, the now 6-foot-6, 315-pounder recalls how he once thought he wasn’t good enough to make it in football. Maybe another sport, and playing at a junior college, was the way to go.
“I always looked up to Logan Mankins and heard about him a lot growing up, but I didn’t think college football was in my future when I was in high school,” Wichmann said. “I was better in basketball. I never saw myself going to Fresno State. I thought I’d go play basketball at Merced and just see what happened then. I never had any big dreams of playing sports professionally.
“It’s kind of funny how it worked out.”
Diamond in the rough
Wichmann, who also played baseball throughout his childhood, had the numbers to back up his hoops aspirations.
Like Mankins before him, Wichmann shined as Mariposa’s center — a powerful inside force with good footwork as well as sheer strength that allowed him to muscle his way inside for dunks. In his final season, he averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds and was named Southern League MVP.
On the football field, Wichmann admits he didn’t do much. He was mostly a tight end, catching 11 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown his senior year. He was rated a two-star recruit (on a five-star scale) by the scouting services.
But somewhere between the end of his junior season in high school and the start of his senior campaign, Wichmann had started to realize he might have a football future after all.
At a Fresno State summer camp, Hill and longtime assistant John Baxter noticed Wichmann bulldozing other campers during a heated “Bulldog drill” — in which one player runs into another to test their strength, pad level and ability to gain leverage on an opponent.
“I guess I kept beating guys who were supposed to be better than me and had offers to play college football at a lot of places,” Wichmann says with a laugh. “Pretty soon, Fresno State was offering me a scholarship. I was kind of shocked.”
For the veteran Bulldogs coach, it probably was a little like watching a rerun. He had seen the size, makeup and upbringing before, when then-assistant Tim Simons, now the coach at Clovis North, had picked up on Mankins while he was a student at Mariposa. Mankins drew even less interest than Wichmann and eventually had to settle for a walk-on role at Fresno State.
Hill didn’t want to take that chance again and possibly lose Wichmann to another school. With a scholarship offered, Wichmann quickly accepted.
There was one more step to take, only in the classroom. That’s where Baxter, known for developing good study habits and other techniques to help players achieve and maintain academic eligibility, stepped in.
The assistant coach drove 90 minutes north, through the windy roads, to the high school. There he gathered all of Wichmann’s teachers and counselors and laid out a plan to get the new recruit ready as a student.
“It was funny,” Wichmann said. “All of my teachers were in one room just listening to what Coach Baxter had to say. I’m really appreciative of what they did. They got me enrolled in the right classes I needed. I was taking two, three math classes at a time. It was tough but I made it.”
Building himself up before cutting down
Wichmann sat out his first year at Fresno State as a redshirt, focusing on school and beefing up his body to meet the demands of NCAA Division I football. He quickly gained 25 pounds.
Two games into the next season, Wichmann made his starting debut — against none other than No. 10 Nebraska in Lincoln. He started six straight games and had 10 starts overall while playing in all 13 games.
Wichmann was rolling but not so Fresno State. The Bulldogs went 4-9, Hill was out and a big change on offense was coming.
Tim DeRuyter’s arrival brought the uptempo spread that requires linemen to be more fit and slim to keep up with the faster pace. Wichmann, now up to 345, was told to shed some pounds.
That meant watching his diet more closely and putting more attention into his offseason training. He weighed in at 312 for his sophomore season in 2012.
The work paid off, with Wichmann starting the first eight games at right tackle before moving to right guard for the final five. Wichmann has remained at right guard since, and he credits his durability to good fortune, a high tolerance for the aches and pains that come with the position, and an offseason regimen that emphasizes balance and flexibility just as much as strength and speed.
“Cody is a guy, he’s not going to say crap if his mouth is full of it,” DeRuyter said. “He just goes out and he works, which I really appreciate. He’s a guy even when he’s hurting, you never hear a peep out of him.
“He’s dependable. He’s a lunch-pail guy, very emblematic of what you love an offensive lineman to be in our system. A guy who’s going to tough things out, be dependable and set the standard for the rest of our guys. Just really, really happy Cody was here when we got here. (Offensive coordinator Dave) Schramm and I, we’re going to miss him.”
Wichmann, named to the All-Mountain West second team this season, is most notable in short-yardage situtations, with the Bulldogs often running the ball behind their biggest offensive lineman and his punishing blocks.
“That’s where he really thrives, in that phone booth, when there isn’t much room to operate,” said Norcross, the offensive line coach. “There are guys who are stronger than him in the weight room, but they don’t show it on the field like Cody. He’s got that old man strength. Once he gets his hands on you, it’s over.”
Paths have split but may yet realign
Though born about a decade apart, Wichmann met Mankins a couple of times in Mariposa. He grew up roughly five miles from the Mankins family ranch, and Mankins’ best friend is Wichmann’s stepbrother, Justin Allison.
“Cody’s always idolized Logan,” said Tally Allison, Cody’s mother. “He was star-struck the first time he met Logan. He really admires him and thinks it would be great if our small town could produce two NFL players.”
Four years after Wichmann arrived on the Fresno State campus, however, comparisons to Mankins are no longer quite as close.
The bar, after all, was set quite high as Mankins became an All-Western Athletic Conference first-team selection. He recorded a school-record 82 knockdown blocks in one season and became the first Bulldogs offensive lineman to win the team MVP award.
Wichmann’s pro future also isn’t nearly as sure as the one Mankins had set up ahead of the 2005 NFL Draft. A projected first-rounder, Mankins was the 32nd overall selection by the New England Patriots.
Most current NFL prospect rankings have Wichmann listed somewhere from the high teens to the mid-20s among guards. He is projected to be a seventh-round pick.
Wichmann isn’t fazed. Grateful for what he’s already accomplished in football, he is in the process of selecting an agent and hoping for an invite to a college all-star game and the NFL combine.
“I’m going to see how far I can keep going with football,” Wichmann said. “It’s gotten me this far and I didn’t think that was possible at first.”