ON SPORTS: Grandparents help pave Cuero graduate's road to NFL
March 20, 2014 at 9:02 p.m.
Updated March 19, 2014 at 10:20 p.m.
CUERO - Rachel Wallace wasn't surprised when her grandson went to work at an ice cream parlor between semesters at Texas A&M.
"He was a good student," she said. "He ran around with kids who had good grades. They would come here and study. They were talking one night and said their goal in life was to work in an ice cream parlor."
Cody Wallace had other ambitions, and he fulfilled them during his time in College Station.
He not only earned a degree but also became an All Big-12 center, creating an opportunity for him to play in the NFL.
"Cody was loving and respectful, and he was very teachable," Rachel said. "If you talked to him about something, you didn't have to keep talking to him about it. He always tried to do what was best."
Cody, 29, has played for six seasons in the NFL and last week signed a three-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He is married, has a 20-month-old son, and his wife is expecting a daughter in June.
But he admits much of what he has accomplished would not have been possible without the guiding hand of Rachel and Chester Wallace, whom he affectionately calls "Muff" and "Puff."
"I still think I would have pushed myself in football," Cody said Thursday during a visit with his grandparents. "But you never know. It could be totally different."
Cody's father died when he was 8, and his mother passed away when he was 16.
Cody and brother Marcus, 31, spent time with both their grandparents before Cody moved in with Rachel and Chester full time after the death of his father.
"I enjoyed being here," Cody said. "They brought me up well. I got to go to church with them all the time. They offered all they could to me and hauled us to school every day. It just worked out."
Chester had recently retired from Texas Eastern Gas Co. when Cody moved in. But he doesn't remember his grandson causing any problems.
"It was harder on him than it was on us," said Chester, 86, who earned the name "Puff" from Cody for the pipes he smoked. "It's harder for kids living with older people. I was retired, and I could haul him to school and pick up from football practice and stuff like that."
Cody appreciated the structure offered by his grandparents.
"They weren't overbearing or anything," Cody said. "I think I had to be home by midnight, and he was there waiting for me. He told me no for certain things. If it was up to me, I would have spent the night with a different friend every night. He kind of taught me don't overdo yourself and put yourself in other people's homes and be a burden to them."
Cody spent a lot of time in the weight room at Cuero and began to be recruited during his junior season.
He earned an offer from Texas A&M, which his grandfather strongly suggested he accept.
"(Texas A&M coach) Dennis Franchione came down, and we met him at the school," Chester recalled. "I told Cody he had other chances to go somewhere and visit, but I said there's no need of that. I said, let's get this first one that's come along and offered you a scholarship. I said take it and go from there and don't mess around with these other schools because it was A&M."
Cody started for the Aggies as a sophomore and began to draw notice from pro scouts during his junior season.
"That was always my goal, even in high school," Cody said. "But I always tried to keep kind of realistic expectations of everything. Even though I was playing my sophomore year, I didn't want to get too excited. My junior year, I got some accolades and got some recognition and realized it could happen."
Cody was with his grandparents when he was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the 2008 draft.
He played two seasons with the 49ers before spending two seasons on the practice squads of the Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Houston Texans.
He spent the 2012 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before joining the Steelers last season and started the last four games.
"He's a gentle giant," Rachel said of her 310-pound grandson. "When you're talking to him, he wouldn't hurt a fly. But on the football field, he kind of changes."
Cody will return to Pittsburgh for offseason workouts next month.
He is hoping his grandparents will watch him play in person for the first time since he was with the Texans.
"He tries to get us a ticket and to fly here and there," Chester said. "I don't mind it, but I'm too old to be going to these airports and doing all that walking. At the football games, man."
Cody knows his grandparents would be there if they could - just like they always have been.
"It's different, but at the same time, you come back, and you feel like you really didn't leave," Cody said. "Everything just kind of falls back into place. It's like once you get back here at Muff's and Puff's, it's just like it always was."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at AdvoSports.com.