Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hodge overcomes size to lead the state in tackles

Khalil Hodge of St. Mary's-Stockton reacts to an option play during the Rams' 35-15 victory over Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa on Sept. 5. Hodge is leading the state in tackles and tackles per game according to Max Preps (photo credit
Undersized? Khalil Hodge of St. Mary's-Stockton doesn't want to hear it.

At 6-foot, 225-pounds, he's considered small compared to some of the top linebackers in California for the Class of 2015. Players like Cameron Smith (6-foot-2, 235-pounds, Granite Bay), John Houston (6-foot-3, 210-pounds, Serra-Gardena) and Keisean Lucier-South (6-foot-4, 211-pounds, Orange Lutheran) all tower over their Friday night opponents - and all three are getting courted by some of the biggest college football programs in the nation.

Hodge, however, has this advantage compared to the highly recruited linebacker trio: he's leading the state with 129 tackles through seven games according to prep website Max Preps. That's why the senior doesn't want anyone to tell him that he's too small.

"I don't feel like a small linebacker at all," Hodge said. "I feel like I'm big enough to make all the plays needed for an inside linebacker."

And big plays he's made this season.

Hodge is the battering ram for the St. Mary defense. He throws his body into the middle of the field to pummel running backs and anyone else who dares to run at him. Hodge's role in the Rams' 4-4/4-3 scheme is to stuff the run, guard the slot (inside) wide receiver and blanket a running back who attempts a wheel route out of the backfield.

He's averaged 18.4 tackles per game and intercepted his first pass this season against Tokay-Lodi on Oct. 17, with the Rams shutting out the Tigers 32-0. The victory against Tokay also saw Hodge finish with 19 tackles, including 10 solo stops.

Some of his highlight plays, though, came at the goal line during the Rams' Sept. 26 shootout against Los Gatos. Hodge shot through the gaps and halted any scoring opportunities with the game on the line. Hodge and the Rams came out victorious 35-32, with St. Mary's defensive leader getting 18 tackles and one sack.

Hodge said his work ethic has led to his dominance on the Ram defense.

"I've put in a lot of hard work in the offseason, so I feel like now I'm just starting to reap the benefits," Hodge said. "But, it wouldn't be possible without all the guys around me, especially our huge defensive line."

The Rams' front four have served as offensive linemen for Hodge. They've created openings by shoving around the opposing front line so Hodge can attack the hole. Hodge said that along with his ability to trust his linemen, he takes pride in his reaction skills.

"My strengths would be dissecting and attacking plays, plus being able to see the play and then defeat offensive linemen to the ball," Hodge said.

He's won over one of his teammates. Demetrius Ferguson - the Rams' top wide receiver option - said he admires Hodge's attitude and work ethic.

"He's a comedian outside of football. But once he steps on the field, it's like something clicks in his mind and he turns into a animal," Ferguson said. "He's a great guy and he's amazing to be around."

With three regular season games left for the 6-1 Rams, Hodge wants to improve his sideline-to-sideline ability.

"I want to make every play and be able to go the distance," he said.

He's also hoping to get more recognition on the recruiting trail. He has just one scholarship pledge that came from 47.5 miles away: Sacramento State of the Football Championship Subdivision.

"I definitely feel underrated," Hodge said. "I'm putting up huge numbers right now and I'm not really getting much recognition from colleges."

Hodge, though, said his primary focus is to get the Rams to make a state bowl run.

"One word to describe us would be 'special,' " he said. "We have the talent to go all the way to state this year."

More on Hodge:

Next game: Hodge and St. Mary's will take on Tracy (5-2) for a 7:15 p.m. showdown on Friday, Oct. 24.

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