WVU’s Yodny Cajuste Last In Line Of Cogdell Recruits
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Damon Cogdell has been the gift that keeps on giving for West Virginia University, although we may now be reaching the end of the line with his last prodigy, offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste.
Cogdell today is an assistant coach at South Florida, once a Big East rival, but WVU is his alma mater, where he played football, coached football and sent the school some of its greatest players from his days as a high school coach.
You have to go back to 1997 to appreciate all that Cogdell has done for WVU and the full story that stands behind why Cajuste today is one of the top offensive linemen in the country, a situation he never would have imagine for himself as late as his junior year in high school.
In 1997, Don Nehlen was shaping what seemed to be one of his best football programs as he neared the end of his career and Cogdell was a big part of it, coming from junior college to move right into the starting lineup.
He was a big-time player, leading the Mountaineers in tackling as a junior when they went to Sryacuse, standing 6-1 fresh off a 30-17 victory over rival Virginia Tech before 63,000 fans in Morgantown.
WVU would lose that game at Syracuse, but the hurt went deeper than just a defeat.
Cogdell suffered a broken hip in the game.
The surgery required an 18-inch incision on his right hip to remove and repair torn issue, to insert a plate to reinforce the joint. It was an ugly injury and the end to a wonderful season, for the Mountaineers without Cogdell lost four of their final five games, beating only Temple.
“We were a little lost without him,” defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap said after that 7-5 season concluded. “He’s a big fella who has all the right stuff to play in the NFL-size, speed and tons of mental toughness.”
Cogdell vowed to return.
“He’s probably the most highly motivated athlete I’ve come across in my 15 years here,” trainer Dave Kerns said at the time. “Damon did everything we asked him to do and more. To see him back on the field, in pads and taking hits, has given this entire football team a lift.”
In some ways, this was no big thing to Cogdell, for a year earlier he had been shot in the stomach by a stickup man and had come back.
Cogdell wrestled a pro career in Canada out of it all, went on to become a top high school coach in Florida and began flowing players to his alma mater … eight, in all, including Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey.
But Cajuste, at 6-foot-5 and 321-pounds, is the most intriguing for, in many ways, he is Cogdell’s creation.
Cajuste, you see, did not play football before his senior year at Miramar, just outside Miami proper.
Oh, he watched the game.
“I liked football. I never played it,” he said.
Cajuste was a basketball player and a good one, thinking of college scholarships and who knows what after that. Why not think that way, having first dunked a basketball in the seventh grade.
He possessed a one-track mind, feeling he had to dedicate himself to the one game that was going to give him a future and when Cogdell, the football coach there bugged him to come try football he always refused to bite.
Finally, before his senior year, Cogdell challenged him.
“He kept nagging me, probably like nine or 10 times,” Cajuste told MetroNews earlier this summer. “When he made me a bet: If I go out for spring football and get one offer, I’d have to stay and play football. If I didn’t get an offer, I could go back to basketball.”
He got five offers.
End of a budding basketball career.
Of course, he could have played basketball and football his senior year, but he opted to stick with his tunnel vision, just looking down a different tunnel.
“I didn’t play my senior year because I took up football,” he said Monday . “If you want to be good at something you to give your all to it.”
He came to WVU needing to add size and technique and did that to the point that now many consider him to be a cinch draft pick and one of the best offensive linemen in the Big 12 … but he certainly hasn’t let any of it blow things out of proportion for him.
In fact, when asked if he was still learning, he looked incredulously at the inquisitor.
“Of course, even if I was playing for 20 years I’d still be learning. I will always be learning,” he said.
And, he says there are no regrets he didn’t take Cogdell up earlier on his offer to play football.
“I don’t know. I know what would have happened if I had played football every year,” he said.
Any regrets he didn’t stay with basketball?
“Not at all because look at me. I wouldn’t want to take this away,” he said.
He says he still loves basketball, but has stopped playing.
“I haven’t played in a while. I haven’t been to the rec center for a while because I have job to do. I don’t want to be messing around,” he said.
And as for Cogdell?
“I still talk to him all the time,” he said.