PITTSBURGH – Out of work on the first Saturday in September after getting cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Devlin Hodges sat in his parent’s house in Kimberly, Alabama, texted his high school coach Dusty Goode and asked Goode if he wanted to come over and watch some football.
As afternoon turned to evening and LSU slowly pulled away from Texas, the quarterback who as a senior at Mortimer Jordan High embraced Goode’s decision to install the option because it gave the Blue Devils the best chance to win – even though his numbers would dip and potentially limit his college options – talked about the future.
There was a chance to work out for the New York Jets. Maybe the XFL would find room for the most prolific passer in Football Championship Subdivision history. Hodges wasn’t sure of anything other than the notion he wasn’t ready to bail.
“He ain’t that way,” Goode said. “And look where he’s gone. He’s gone from not having nothing, to having everything.”
Or, at the very least, a shot at everything. The player Alabama coach Nick Saban considered too small to suit up for the Crimson Tide, who is a champion duck caller in his down time, who wasn’t signed after coming out of Samford last spring and only made the Steelers after performing well in a tryout, could run onto the field with the starters on Sunday night when Pittsburgh (1-4) visits the Los Angeles Chargers (2-3).
While Mason Rudolph practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday, an important step in his recovery from a frightening concussion suffered in Sunday’s loss to Baltimore, Hodges worked with the starters and didn’t exactly look out of place. Heady territory for the 23-year-old affectionately known as “Duck” by his teammates after Steelers coach Mike Tomlin dubbed Hodges “Duck Dynasty” during offseason workouts.
Yes, in a way things have happened quickly. Hodges went from jobless to the practice squad to primary backup to completing 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards in the second half of a pivotal division game at Heinz Field in the span of a month. He knows his story is unlikely. At least, to everyone else but Hodges.
“It’s a crazy process, even from the beginning, coming here for a tryout,” he said. “I told some people before that if I play in the NFL five years, 10 years, this whole kind of story will fit who I am. It just shows (with) hard work and confidence and belief in yourself, you can accomplish your dreams.”
Hodges talks with a bit of a twang that belies his upbringing in Kimberly, a town of about 3,000 located 20 minutes north of Birmingham. He’s been throwing touchdown passes since he was 5 but when Goode arrived to take over at Mortimer Jordan in 2013, the Blue Devils were in the process of rebuilding.
So Goode asked Hodges to run the option, a decision that limited Hodges’ opportunities to show off his right arm but also kept the team’s defense off the field. Hodges’ numbers were modest – he threw for 1,748 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior – but the team turned a corner. Mortimer Jordan reached the playoffs that fall, the start of a rise that’s made them a perennial contender in Alabama.
“It was a big deal,” Goode said. “He kind of helped create the foundation and we’ve reaped the benefits ever since.”