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Football to the Core


 Ole Miss wide receiver Cody Core likes to mix it up like an old Bengals running back.

Cody Core.

Say it again.

Cody Core.

If that's not the name of a football player, then what about Casey Core, the name of his sibling?

Not quite. But she's got an Olympic name. Casey Core is the little sister of Corey Core and as her brother prepares for his first pro football appearance this weekend at the Bengals rookie minicamp, she is running at the Alabama state high school track meet in Mobile.

Cincinnati Bengals 2016 Draft Class

"I told his coach if she were a boy, he'd have another wide receiver," says their dad, Thad Core. "She's 6-2, in ninth grade, and her first time out of the blocks she ran 12.4 seconds in the 100. She's special."

So is her big brother, who is 6-3, 205 pounds, believes he once ran a hand-held 4.41 40-yard dash, and was back at Ole Miss working the day after they buried their mother. In his first game after a brain aneurysm stole Amy Core in the middle of the night at age 37, her son honored her with a career day 110 yards and two touchdowns in the Rebels' 2014 opener.

"I just wanted to come back to Ole Miss and have football take my mind off of it and do what she wanted me to do," Cody Core says. "She inspires me every single day."

It was Amy Core who let him play after not allowing football. Thad, who came back to Auburn, Ala., to marry her after he played at Troy State, hoped his oldest would play basketball.

"When I was in school, basketball was the big business," says Thad, a flexed-out 190-pound tight end who never could keep on weight. "With just 15 (players), you had a better chance to eat steak and shrimp. But now it's all a big business."

Cody had to make a deal with his mother in sixth grade to play football. And he really wanted to play. Everyone else around him had started in the second and third grades.

"I think my dad wanted me to play. But he was doing what his wife wanted," Cody says. "She said I had to give up a sport. So I gave up baseball."

"Definitely," Thad says. "She knew you couldn't play three or four sports and get the schoolwork done."

Football was his game from the beginning. Even before he started playing, he watched an Auburn running back named Rudi Johnson smash defenders in bowling ball fashion. 

"I like to mix it up," he says when told it sounds like he's a physical dude. "I like to be physical. I like to tackle . . . Yeah, I'm a physical dude."

Like all the young wide receivers, he's going to get a long look during the summer-long effort to replace Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. He runs faster than Sanu but doesn't have the deep ball pedigree – yet – of Jones, but he's got more college production with 78 catches for 15.4 yards per and 10 touchdowns his last two seasons in Oxford. The knock, it seems, is consistency.

But Core has a very good chance to be one of five active receivers on game day pretty soon because he's got 18 career special teams tackles, a stat special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has to love because he's been looking for a receiver to cover kicks in the decade since Kevin Walter left. Core not only knows what a gunner does, he loves it.

"I love tackling. I'll be ready for that . .. I love being the first guy downfield and being able to make the first tackle. I guess I just like running wide open," Core says.

"I love blocking. I feel like if you can't block for another teammate, there's going to be a problem for a teammate to like you and earn respect. I better have some trust from him that I can block for him.'

This kinship with contact goes all the way back to a familiar Bengals banger. Rudi. Rudi. Rudi. Cody Core became a Bengals fan when Johnson started bouncing off NFL tacklers.

"I loved the way he ran," Core says. "He was a hard guy to bring down."


Growing up in Auburn, Ala., Core loved watching Auburn running back Rudi Johnson play in Cincy.

And, yes, Cody Core grew up watching You Tube feats of the Pro Bowl wide receiver on that team.

"I was following them when he changed his name to Chad Ocho Cinco," Core says. "He had such quick feet. It was amazing."

But his favorite receivers growing up were Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, when he was with the Cowboys."  He'll get an eyeful from the guy known as the next Randy Moss, Bengals' perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green.

"A.J. Green," Core says, "is a monster."

Core is hoping to use that T.O.ish size to turn himself into an ogre for defenses. It's funny. Size got him drafted and that's the reason he went to Ole Miss and not Troy.

"Coach Franklin didn't want a big receiver," Thad Core says of the Vanderbilt head coach at the time, James Franklin.

Despite his efforts to get into the SEC (Kentucky offered and they loved ex-coach Joker Phillips but they were uncertain of his future), it looked like Core was going to follow his father to Troy. Until assistant coach Wesley McGriff left Vandy for Ole Miss and at the last minute Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze asked him if there were any players still out there that could help.

"Coach McGriff said, 'I know one,' " Thad says. "And that's how he got to Ole Miss. I was ready for him to go to Troy. But Ole Miss ended up being a great place for him."

Core's departure from his hometown is shrouded in a bit of mystery. His high school coach told, "Cody would've crawled to Auburn University."  But Core was a late bloomer and the hometown school never knocked. And now he says, "I would have gone to Ole Miss instead, anyway."

 Amy Core didn't much care. She went to Auburn High School and taught Sunday School at the Greater Peace Baptist Church, where she sang soprano in the choir. And after she got her Master's of Education at Troy, she came home to Auburn to teach fourth grade. But forget Auburn. She was Cody Core all the way.

"I'm not sure if she was an Auburn fan. But she was a fan of anywhere I was," Core says.

One line in her Opelika-Auburn News obituary confirms that: "Parents and students will always remember Mrs. Core's smile as she greeted them in the car line and those early Friday school announcements made for her to go to Hotty Toddy land to see Cody play."

There is also the video on Amy's Twitter feed posted about a month after she died of her fellow Auburn teachers wishing No. 88 good luck.


Core hopes to use that stiff arm often.

Thad, who works in the warehouse receiving business,  admits that last Saturday was tough without her. But then, it's been tough, period, since, July 18, 2014.

"She woke up at 3 a.m., with a headache," Thad says. "We got her to the hospital and they flew her to Birmingham for emergency surgery. By the end of Friday, she had passed."

Cody Core was at summer school in Oxford. By the time he got to Birmingham, she was on life support. In time to say good-bye.

"He wanted to take ownership (and come home) thinking I needed help with Casey," Thad says. "I told him the most important thing is to get his degree. Go back to school where you were happy and everything will take care of itself.

"I didn't want him to sit around and mope. I wanted my kids to use it as motivation. I told him, 'We'll be OK. That's what your mama wants. She wouldn't want us to sit around have a pity party for ourselves. She'd want us to move on with our lives and reach our goals."

Cody Core went back to football camp and two years later Thad posted on Amy's Twitter feed the Bengals had drafted their son in the sixth round.

"It was tough to watch some of those other receivers go ahead of him," says Thad, who stopped watching the draft on Saturday to go to his mother's house and begin grilling out. "He wasn't targeted as much as he should have been targeted, but we never prayed for catches. He was at Ole Miss to get an education . . . But I had to stay away from that TV a lot. I just kept thinking, 'Keep pushing and it will work out.'"

That's the way it's been for two years. The Cores keep pushing. Just like Ole Miss, Thad is delighted is it is the Bengals.

"It's a perfect place for him being a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals," Thad says. "They develop receivers with the wide receivers coach (James Urban) and Coach (Marvin) Lewis. So he goes to the perfect place."

For Cody Core, the kid with the NFL name and the NFL dreams, the draft didn't change much since his mom said he could play football.

"I was just overwhelmed and excited to get an opportunity to keep doing what I've been doing," he says.

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