420 pounds in eighth grade, Cajuns guard O'Cyrus Torrence didn't wait to stand out
Even in eighth grade, O’Cyrus Torrence was a huge deal. At 6-foot-3 and 420 pounds, it’s hard not to be.
These days a trimmed-down Torrence carries about 332 pounds on a 6-5 frame — standing out for altogether different reasons. Starting at right guard for the No. 25 Ragin’ Cajuns, the sophomore already is a bona fide NFL prospect.
But before he becoming one, the big guy from a small town had to deal with what he was and decide what he wanted to be.
“I had to get used to the fact I was much bigger and I always felt out of place because I literally didn’t fit in,” Torrence said. “But once I got to high school and started playing football, everything else really worked its way out because football gave me more confidence and helped me lose all the weight.”
Now Cajun coaches and teammates too rave about all he does for UL (7-1, 5-1 Sun Belt), which after having Saturday’s game against Central Arkansas canceled due to COVID-19 issues inside the program is scheduled to visit UL Monroe this coming Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN3).
“Like Coach Looney would say, ‘He’s a freak,’” starting center Shane Vallot said with reference to late offensive line assistant coach D.J. Looney, who died of a heart attack during a mini-camp workout in August. “He’s a big dude. He’s a player.
“He got thrown in as a freshman, and I would say he did a helluva job. He went out there, he competed. He’s a fighter. He doesn’t give up. And … he likes to learn.”
Torrence stepped right in when starting left guard Ken Marks tore up a knee in UL’s 2019 season-opener against Mississippi State at the Superdome in New Orleans.
“When I went down, I went up to him and I told him, ‘You got this.’ He had a little nervous look in his eye,” Marks said. “But after a few plays he was good, and throughout the season he developed even more.”
“Coach just threw him in the fire, and he didn’t bend, he didn’t break,” Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis added. “Some guys had ups and downs; I didn’t see a down in Cybo’s game the whole season.”
He was 'in shape to strain'
Was there ever any doubt?
Evidently not for someone whose nickname is the shortened version of one his mother Demetrice gave him as a kid – Cyborg, a fictional superhero.
“People didn’t pick up on it, and somehow Cybo caught on, since it’s quicker,” he said.
Whatever the name, he has game.
“We knew he was a good player whenever he came in,” Marks said. “Just being coached by Coach (Rob) Sale and Coach Looney, we knew he was going to be all right.”
Tears of joy:Ragin' Cajuns honored Looney the right way with win at UAB
Napier:'I can’t help but think my man D.J. is up there smiling'
More:Ragin' Cajun coaches mourn loss of UL assistant Looney
Shortly after signing with the Cajuns, the Class 2A All-State pick from St. Helena College & Career Academy in Greensburg – a Louisiana map dot of 700 or so not quite 40 miles northeast of Baton Rouge – received a workout manual.
Sale, UL’s offensive coordinator/o-line coach, remembers Torrence, who received a late recruiting offer from Georgia to go with ones from Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and South Alabama, doing “everything to a T.”
In the weight room. Running too.
“And for a big man,” Sale said, “running is more important.
“You’re big and strong, but can you maintain? Are you in shape to strain?”
Torrence plays like he practices
For Torrence, though, conditioning was no issue. What he did in high school carried over.
“The hard work that comes with (playing) football and losing weight went hand-in-hand,” he said, “and it kept getting better and better from there.”
But Torrence still had something to prove before playing his first college game.
Each step that first summer is a test Sale applies to determine just how ready each freshman is. He passed.
“One day, practice – it just clicked,” Torrence said. “That’s the best way I could put it.
“One day I went to practice, I didn’t know as much. I kept missing it during film. Then one day I went out there, I started understanding more of what Coach Sale was doing and what was happening on the field.”
Soon, the show was on.
“Once you start getting into it, after the first scrimmage,” Sale said, “you’re like … ‘The guy’s gonna have a chance to play.’”
With Marks unavailable, Torrence had to. Sale and head coach Billy Napier didn’t hesitate, though.
“Obviously you love the kid’s size, speed, athleticism when you’re watching the guy on tape, watching his high school film,” Sale said last spring. “But the way we structure our June and July (tells a lot).”
A freshman typically has nine scheme installs in June, nine in July, nine in August preseason camp.
“So Cybo had installs three times. And we two-spot everything,” Sale said. “So a true freshman gets the same amount of reps as the starting right guard would have gotten reps. So you can evaluate.”
As Cajun coaches did, they became convinced.
“By the time of the first game … you’ve had a good body of work in practice,” Sale said.
“So you knew once you put him out there (against) Mississippi State you weren’t just rolling the dice. … Because what you do in practice is what you’re gonna do in a game. … It’s not just like, ‘Oh, I’m a gamer.’ No, no, no. It don’t work like that.”
'Of course I was nervous'
It all worked out for the Cajuns last season, though.
Truth be told, however, Torrence initially just tried to keep up. It took all he had.
“Of course I was nervous,” he said, “but I practiced for it and I was ready for it.
“Then I started realizing … my best was good enough.”
“Other people, they started noticing,” Torrence added. “I started seeing it too, but I tried to not buy too much into it and … (tried) to remember what got me here.”
UL wound up rushing for 3,604 yards – 257.4 per game – and 42 touchdowns as the 11-3 Cajuns won the Sun Belt Conference West Division and the LendingTree Bowl.
Elijah Mitchell ran for 1,147 yards and 16 TDs. Raymond Calais Jr. – now with the Los Angeles Rams – rushed for 886 and averaged 7.6 yards per carry. Trey Ragas ran for 820 yards, averaging 7.1 per carry, and 11 TDs. Chris Smith, UL’s No. 4 running back then, had 334.
It certainly wasn’t all Torrence’s doing, but he was a huge part.
“I wouldn’t mind running inside zone behind him myself,” UL strength and conditioning coach Mark Hocke joked. “I might be able to get a yard or two behind him.”
'Cybo, he's a stud'
By season’s end, Torrence was a 2019 Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-American.
UL’s line that year also featured NFL Draft picks Robert Hunt (Miami) and Kevin Dotson (Pittsburgh). But Hunt missed the season’s second half with an injury, so Max Mitchell went from left tackle to right. Dotson started at left guard, and when he left Torrence seamlessly moved there.
“Cybo, he’s a stud,” Sale said.
“Some people are better with the right hand down and on the right side than the left side. Cybo’s ambidextrous. He can both play guards, and he looks dang-good doing it.”
Moving Torrence to the right reunited him with Max Mitchell, who now protects southpaw QB Lewis’ blindside.
“We just work well with each other,” Mitchell said.
“That’s a large man beside me as well, so it’s pretty nice to move some people and being able to rely on him to take my inside gap, you know?”
Ragas sure knows.
“It’s just like running behind Dotson,” he said of Torrence at right guard. “It’s the same to me.”
Which says a lot. Dotson was drafted in the fourth round, Hunt in the second.
Major motivation:Story of Dolphins pick Hunt inspired UL commit Maillho
What are they? NFL use in eye of the beholder for UL's Hunt, Dotson
All about upbringing:Dad raised Cajuns NFL Draft prospect Dotson right way
UL's rock:Offensive guard Dotson is a 'powerful human'
He humbly harbors hope of turning pro too, and it’s easy to understand why.
“The sky is the limit for him,” Max Mitchell said.
“He’s handled his diet well. He’s strong. He’s athletic. … The kid has all the football instinct in the world. He could definitely go, I think, first round by the end of this career here.”
It all starts 'between the ears'
Torrence, however, didn’t rest on freshman-season laurels.
“I haven’t seen letup in his work ethic,” Hocke said in the offseason.
Torrance has helped Senior Bowl invitee Elijah Mitchell rush for 563 yards over seven games this season. Ragas has 522 in eight, Smith another 290 on about half as many carries as the other two.
When UL beat Georgia State in September, Torrence was one of three Cajun captains.
“He’s been one of the bright spots,” Napier said.
“He’s a guy who has the right mindset. He’s very intelligent. He’s very mature. He’s got great perspective on life. He’s a really good practice player. … He’s one of the more disciplined kids we have, and he’s becoming a leader.
“That’s one of the things we’re challenging him to do, is to be more vocal,” Napier added, “because he’s one of the guys that does it the right way and really sets an example.”
Credibility is a byproduct of his hard work.
Sale and the late Looney, as Hocke sees it, toiled to develop him but built from a solid base.
“Really the biggest person, reason, for his success is O’Cyrus himself,” the strength coach said.
And it has little to do with those pounds he’s accustomed to carrying.
“No doubt you can watch him compete on a Saturday and see how special he is physically, how tough he is physically,” Hocke said. “But I think that all starts between the ears, right?
“The way he’s wired, the way he thinks; that’s what makes him different from just about anybody and everybody,” Hocke added. “And that’s why I think he’s going to continue to have success.”
The right mind:Mental health tops the priority list for UL offensive tackle Robertson
More:Alexandria product Carlos Rubio ready when needed by the Ragin' Cajuns
It's a 'beautiful thing'
From seat of the Sale, who calls coaching “guys like Ol’ Cybo … why you do it,” Torrence would have forced himself into freshman-season playing time even if Marks hadn’t gotten hurt.
The injury simply accelerated things.
“He just never looked back,” Sale said.
Nor does Torrence ever sit still.
Starting center Vallot bragged in the summer about how the youngster would regularly text him about reviewing the weekly game plan.
“The beautiful thing about Big Cybo is he wants to learn,” sixth-year senior offensive lineman Cole Prudhomme said. “He wants you to pour information, and he’s just listening.
“You tell him one thing, he’ll either get there right away or he’ll mess up one time then he’ll learn from that mistake. He’s so easy to coach … and I think that’s just amazing.”
What we learned:No. 25 Louisiana 38, South Alabama 10
More:Secondary was a primary force in No. 25 Ragin' Cajuns' win over South Alabama
More:Balanced offense helps No. 25 Ragin' Cajuns run away from South Alabama