By Greg Bates
DE PERE – As a kid, Kerry Kodanko watched his two older brothers play Division I football.
He quickly realized he wanted to follow in their footsteps.
With the help of brothers Riki and Kory, Kerry has become an accomplished offensive lineman at West De Pere.
“I went to all their middle school and high school games,” said Kodanko, who mainly plays offensive left tackle for the Phantoms. “They help me with my technique and give me tips on what I need to work on.”
Riki played two seasons at Wisconsin (2010-11) and Kory played at Iowa State (2014-17).
“They’ve worked with him outside of practice time to improve his blocking,” West De Pere head coach Jack Batten said.
When Kodanko showed promise as a sophomore, Division I schools again came knocking on the family’s front door.
Kodanko checked out Iowa and Michigan State and received scholarship offers from South Dakota, Northern Iowa, North Dakota, Air Force, Eastern Kentucky and Illinois State.
In the end, it was Wisconsin which piqued his interest.
The Wisconsin coaches invited Kodanko to attend the Central Michigan game Sept. 7 and offered him a preferred walk-on opportunity.
Two days later, Kodanko called Wisconsin offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph and committed to the school.
“I told coach Rudolph, ‘Give him a year and you’ll be offering him a scholarship,’” Batten said. “I have faith in the young man – he’ll work his tail off. Once they get him, they’ll put another 20-30 pounds on him.”
Kodanko’s goal is to work and earn a scholarship.
“I’m going to put my head down, get to work and try to earn everything,” Kodanko said. “Good things come if you work hard. It’s an honor, and I’m blessed. It’s a childhood dream. I have a Bucky Badger Fathead in my room.”
His favorite part about watching Wisconsin football is focusing on the offensive linemen, and dissecting their approach on every play.
Since 2011, 11 offensive linemen from Wisconsin have been drafted into the NFL, with five going in the first two rounds.
“They have a history of taking kids and turning them into good football players,” Batten said. “For his size, Kerry is athletic. Combine that with grit and competitiveness, and you have a good offensive lineman.”
Several Wisconsin offensive linemen start as walk-ons and eventually crack the everyday lineup.
This season, redshirt sophomore Josh Seltzner walked onto the program and is now the starting right guard.
“It shows you don’t need to be a scholarship player to get in the NFL,” Kodanko said. “You have to put the work in.”
Becoming one of the best
Kodanko’s rise to stardom came quickly as a freshman.
He suited up on the West De Pere junior varsity team as a ninth-grader and earned the starting nod as a sophomore on varsity.
“He’s the best offensive lineman I’ve coached in 32 years,” Batten said. “He can pass protect, he’s a dominating run blocker, he’s a team captain and is a good leader. He’s everything you’d want in a football player.”
At 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, Kodanko is a big body but is quick getting off the ball.
Because his height makes him undersized to play tackle in college, the Wisconsin coaches said they’d like him to play guard or center.
He reassured his future coaches he’ll play where needed.
Versatility is a big part of Kodanko’s game.
He mostly plays left tackle – keeping edge rushers off quarterback Josh Blount’s blindside – but he’ll also swap to the right side depending on the situation.
“I know the playbook because I have to know the tight end position and the tackle position and what they’re doing every play,” said Kodanko, who played tight end his sophomore season.
Batten said the best part of Kodanko’s game is his physicality.
“He has a knack to stay on a guy once he gets on him,” Batten said. “Once he’s on you, you’re going for a ride. He’s a physical player, and he’s a phenomenal blocker.”
Kodanko is best at run blocking, but over the summer while attending camps, he improved his pass-blocking skills.
“I’m looking forward to working for it, because that’s part of the fun – showing what I can do against those guys,” Kodanko said. “You get better by playing against better people.”
Batten is confident Kodanko has a bright future ahead of him.
“He definitely has an opportunity to play on Sundays,” Batten said.