Senior offensive lineman Korey “Big Country” Cunningham is noticeably leaner after spending several months training under the Bearcats new strength and conditioning coach Brady Collins.
“I played last year around 320 (pounds) and it didn’t really feel good on my knees and stuff like that,” said Cunningham. “Now I’m down to around 308 and I’m feeling good and moving way better. Coach Collins and his strength staff have done an amazing job. I’m toned up and in the best shape that I’ve been in a long time. I’m excited for the season.”
“His before and after picture was kind of scary,” said quarterback Hayden Moore with a laugh.
— BigCountry (@KoreyC71) July 3, 2017
But Big Country still has a big appetite and it was on display at the recent American Athletic Conference media days in Newport, Rhode Island which annually includes an all-the-lobster-you-can-eat clambake.
“I think I only ate seven,” Korey told me. “The only guy that ate more than me was a tackle from UCF. I think he ate ten. If I knew that, I definitely would have had 11 or 12.
“I definitely could have put more down, but I had to ease back a bit. I knew Coach Brady would get it out of me when we got back.”
Cunningham arrived at Cincinnati as a 225-pound high school tight end before being moved to the offensive line. The Alabama native started every game at left tackle last season and is the only returning offensive lineman with more than five career starts.
“Being a guy that has the experience that he does and the leadership skills that he has, he means a lot to our group and a lot to our offense,” said offensive line coach Ron Crook. “A lot of the guys in the locker room are looking toward him to see how he prepares and gets ready every day. If we can get enough guys to follow suit, that’s going to help us in the long run.”
“We’re definitely rebuilding this year and we’re going to find out what we’re about,” said Cunningham. “We lost Bond, Leahy, and Stout but we’re going to be good with the guys that we have now. Everybody is learning the system with the stuff that we’re doing on the field and also in the film room. Come game time, we’ll have good people up front.”
“He’s really come a long way to become that guy on the offensive line that everybody looks to,” said Moore. “The other offensive lineman look toward him and Korey has the attitude where he is going to make them block. I love that he’s that guy because he’ll yell at you and get in your face to make you do what he wants you to do.”
Cunningham is not only a leader of his position group.
“He’s one of those ‘heart and souls’ of our team,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “If there’s anybody that I’ve seen really transition and embrace the culture it’s Korey. I’m excited to watch him play this year.
“He’s the kind of guy that you want to have in your locker room and on your offensive line. I hope what he does and what he believes in and the passion that he has for the game of football is contagious.”
“Coming back from our break last winter after we didn’t go to a bowl game I was hungry,” said Cunningham. “I wanted someone to come in here and change the culture. (The new staff) came in and pushed us to our limits. I loved it because we’re hungry and ready for a new day.”
Coach Fickell saw what a “hungry” Korey Cunningham can do to lobster. But that’s not what caught his eye at AAC media days.
“It was interesting to take him with us on the trip and hear him say that he wants to be a coach someday,” said Fickell. “I thought he was smarter than that, but it shows me that this is something that he’s passionate about and it’s a game that he wants to play. I hope we’ve shown him what he needs to do to play it for a long time.”
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