The realization finally hit Cody Mauch earlier this week. On Super Bowl Sunday, his agency Rep 1 Sports threw a viewing party in a beach bungalow for the NFL prospects they are representing and training in Irvine, California.
As Mauch arrived, it hit him as he thought to himself, “If I would have told myself five years ago that I was going to this Super Bowl party on the beach, I would’ve said I’m crazy.”
That’s because five years ago, Mauch was a walk-on tight end at North Dakota State from the small town of Hankinson, ND.
Now, he’s a potential first-round NFL Draft pick as an offensive lineman after an All-American left tackle career for the Bison.
From Underrecruited To The Pros
NDSU has had an incredible run of sending offensive linemen, all overlooked as recruits, to the NFL.
Joe Haeg (Brainerd, MN) went from a walk-on to a 2016 fifth-round draft pick by Indianapolis. Cordell Volson (Balfour, ND) went from playing 9-man football to being a 2022 fourth-round pick by Cincinnati. Cordell’s older brother Tanner signed a UDFA contract with the Chargers in 2019. Landon Lechler (Beach, ND), another 9-man football product, signed with Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
Minnesota recruits like Billy Turner, Dillon Radunz, and Zack Johnson were more developed and ready to play going to NDSU than the small-town ND guys, but they were still overlooked by their backyard FBS team Minnesota. Turner was drafted in the third round by Miami in 2014, Radunz went in the 2021 second round to Tennessee, and Johnson signed a UDFA contract with Green Bay in 2020.
Since 2014, NDSU has had 10 total NFL Draft picks, two in the first round and three in the second-third rounds.
Mauch didn’t exactly expect his name to be a part of this list when he arrived in Fargo.
Hankinson is a town of fewer than 1,000 people, an hour south of Fargo, and plays 9-man football. Mauch had two opportunities to go Division 1: walk-on offers from NDSU and the University of North Dakota.
He chose the Bison, saying his goals were to hopefully make some sort of impact on the field and to win national titles. Mauch got his fair share of rings during his six-year career. And the impact he made on the field was far more than he ever imagined.
Mauch went to NDSU as a 6-foot-4, 234-pound tight end. The “freshman 15” and then some hit in his first year. What went from a joke by coaches saying he may need to take some offensive line reps became reality. Mauch was still a tight end entering his first spring practices in 2018, but he started doing some OL 1-on-1s.
“Honestly when I first had to start pass-setting, I was like ‘I’ve never done that. And ok, so I’m back-pedaling and they’re running right at me and I have to somehow stop them?’” Mauch told HERO Sports, recalling his first moments trying to play offensive line. In high school, he played tight end, defensive end, some quarterback, running back, and of course, kicker. Nine-man football doesn’t even have offensive tackles, just a center and two guards. “That was a hard transition. But I came around to it after a bunch of reps.”
By the fall of 2018, he officially became an offensive lineman and was listed at 269 pounds.
In 2019, he was up to 290 pounds, going from a scout team member to playing the ogre position, often wearing No. 88 as an eligible receiver at tight end when the Bison used six offensive linemen.
In the 2021 spring season, Mauch took over Radunz’s spot as the starting left tackle at 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds. He locked that spot down in the 2021 and 2022 seasons as well, weighing in at just over 300 pounds.
While he was on campus, the Bison won FCS national titles in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021, adding to its 2011-2015 championships.
Mauch went from an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference second-team selection in the spring season to an All-American in 2021. NFL buzz grew going into the 2022 season, where Mauch established himself as the best FCS offensive lineman, racking up several All-American honors and being the highest-graded FCS tackle on PFF (90.8).
Not only did Mauch join the long list of underrecruited success stories at NDSU, he arguably tops the list.
“I really think that the Midwest and our area of North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota, that area is generally overlooked in terms of recruitment,” he said. “But also the fact that you bring in kids who out of high school are not those types of guys, maybe with the exception of Dillon who was probably the most ready. But it’s a lot of guys who are projects. You have to grind at it for a couple of years and change your body. It’s finding the right mentality guys, paired with what we do in the weight room with our development. Coach [Jim] Kramer, how he develops guys is pretty insane.”
Rising Draft Stock
With Mauch fully on the NFL radar throughout the 2022 season, it was no surprise when invites to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine came.
He showed off his versatility at the Senior Bowl earlier this month, the top college all-star game, playing all five positions on the o-line despite only playing LT at NDSU. Mauch has impressed scouts with his play and his joyous personality on and off the field.
He’s been knocking the NFL Draft process, which involves endless interviews and on-field workouts/drills, out of the park.
NFL Draft analysts from The Draft Network, ESPN, and NFL.com are projecting Mauch to be selected in the first round. Two FCS offensive linemen were drafted in last year’s first round: Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning and Chattanooga’s Cole Strange.
Mauch’s size, athleticism, and tenacity all translate to the next level. Also helping Bison players, especially on the offensive line, is the pro system NDSU runs.
“Whether or not we run it in games, we have so much in our offense,” Mauch said. “We have pretty much any scheme you can think of with what we’re doing at NDSU. I think it’s the wide variety of schemes we run that translates well to the NFL. We’re running duo, we’re running outside zone, we’re running everything they run in the NFL. So I think it gets us jumpstarted that way. Also paired with coaching. We get coached so well at NDSU. And even if you’re a guy like Dillon and Joe and Cordell, they’re still getting coached as if they’re rookies. Just because they’ve quote-unquote made it, they’re still getting the same coaching as everyone else so they can develop even more.”
Mauch continues to develop his skills, especially since some projections have him playing on the interior of the offensive line. He’s also training for all of the measurable testing to prove he is as athletic as he looks on tape.
With NDSU’s season going into January after a national championship appearance and the Senior Bowl less than a month away, the grind didn’t stop much for Mauch. And it’s a continued grind up to the draft, making it tough to stop and reflect. But as the small-town North Dakotan and former walk-on went to the beach to watch the Super Bowl with fellow draft prospects, Mauch let it all sink in.
“That was a moment where I thought to myself how cool of an opportunity that I’m in,” Mauch said. “You can’t take anything for granted because even though the training and everything you go through throughout this process is tough, shoot, you can’t complain about anything because of how many people dream to be here.”