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April 13, 2012Matt Herb
Had he wanted, the biggest event on Gerald Hodges' calendar this April would have been the NFL Draft, not the Blue-White Game.
After the 2011 regular season, the then-junior linebacker requested an evaluation from the league's Draft Advisory Board. In December, a representative of the board called the family home in Paulsboro, N.J., to give Hodges the results. But he was already in Dallas preparing for the TicketCity Bowl. His father took the call, but didn't pass the message along. It didn't matter what the scouts thought about his son's potential, Gerald Hodges Sr. decided.
"He said, 'We're not going to go off of anybody else. You're either going to go or you're not. Either you either feel like you can play or you feel like you can't,' " Hodges said. "So I prayed and made my decision off of that."
That decision was to stay at Penn State for one more year. To this day, Hodges doesn't know what his father learned about his draft-worthiness. "I'm real curious," he said, "But he won't budge. He won't tell me. He said, 'Just go out there and play.' "
That's just what Hodges is doing. Instead of prepping for the draft, he's getting ready for his final season at Penn State. It should be a good one. Maybe a great one.
Hodges said he has been practicing at the Sam position as he gets acclimated to Ted Roof's new defense. There are a lot of pass coverage responsibilities, but he didn't indicate any dramatic changes are in the works, nor did fellow linebacker Michael Mauti. Said Mauti, "I see the offense's playbook, and that's like a different language. I don't even want to look at it. The defense is a little bit more simple. Once you learn the concepts, you can call anything you want as long as you know where guys fit in the puzzle. That's our only learning curve."
Coming off a season in which he led the Nittany Lions with 106 tackles, Hodges said he isn't focused on stats or awards heading into his final season. "I haven't really set any goals," he said. "My main goal is just to come out here every day and what I didn't do so well last year, come out here and put an emphasis on that and do it better. Just try to get better on a consistent basis and improve my game. Just be the best I can be, basically."
Hodges' game was at a pretty high level last year - he was named a first-team All-Big Ten linebacker by the league's coaches - and he's continued to shine this spring, coach Bill O'Brien said.
"He's had one of the better springs. He's a heck of a player, a very athletic guy, a very intense guy," O'Brien said. "He's the picture of a Penn State linebacker, and he's poised to have a very good year for us."
Hodges said he's been working on the kick coverage teams as well as learning the new defense. His final season will likely serve as his springboard into the league, and while he works to adjust to the finer points of Roof's defense, he's also bearing in mind the school's recent history. The Lions have groomed a number of star NFL linebackers - Paul Posluszny, Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman - and when Hodges looks around the Lasch Building these days, he sees even more.
"I feel like there's definitely a chance not just for me, but for guys like Mauti, [Glenn] Carson, all those guys in the room," he said. "We know there's hope, because those other guys did it. They sat in these same chairs. Coach [Ron] Vanderlinden was just saying that yesterday. Those guys who are making plays in the NFL, they were sitting in these chairs. That definitely makes you feel encouraged."