Sophomore linebacker Khalil Hodge matures into leadership role on UB football's defense
For all of UB football’s struggles this season, both offensively and defensively, the future appears bright.
The team is currently 1-4 overall and 0-1 in the Mid-American Conference. Offensively, freshman quarterback Tyree Jackson is slowly progressing into a leadership role. Defensively, sophomore middle linebacker Khalil Hodge, a JUCO transfer from California, already appears to be in full command as a leader on defense. Despite just entering the program this year and only being a sophomore, Hodge has already taken on the role of Mike linebacker in UB’s defense. He is the quarterback of UB’s defense and he has thrived as the defensive playcaller thus far for Buffalo.
With an average of 12.3 tackles per game, he is third in the entire country.
“I’m just trying to do my part,” Hodge said. “Whatever my job is in the defense, I want to do that to the best of my ability. I’m just trying to help this defense, shut offenses down and win games as much as possible.”
At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, Hodge has the look of a traditional thumper in the middle of UB’s defense. However, his athleticism is surprising for someone of his size and he is a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker with coverage ability.
“Obviously he has some God-given ability, he’s a big kid, pretty athletic, he’s got good feet,” said UB linebackers coach Chris Simpson.
Along with fellow linebackers junior Jarrett Franklin and junior Ishmael Hargrove, Hodge has been a leader for perhaps the best unit on UB’s team this season.
“The way he plays, he play’s fast and makes the rest of the defense play fast especially at Mike linebacker where you need to know all your checks,” Franklin said. “He’s able to get us lined up, able to make our checks and then it’s just easier and gives us more confidence in our play.”
Hodge, a California native under recruited out of high school, spurned offers from lower-level Division 1 schools to play at the City College of San Francisco and secured better offers by proving himself at the JUCO level. While at an Francisco, he helped lead City College to a National Championship.
Hodge says after speaking with Simpson and head coach Lance Leipold back in California, he decided to take a trip out to Buffalo and felt at home at the school immediately.
“I enjoyed it, I really did,” Hodge said of his trip to Buffalo. “I got use to the snow quick. coach Simpson and coach Leipold really wanted what’s best for me. I felt like I could help contribute to this team… I talked to my family about it and I thought it was the right move.”
A diehard Oakland Raiders fan, Hodge admits it was enticing to go to the same school as former All-American linebacker and current Raider Khalil Mack. Hodge appears well on his way to continuing UB’s tradition of great linebackers.
“Right now, [Mack’s] the best player to come out of UB, so everyone should be chasing that,” Hodge said.
As the season continues, Hodge will be one of the most important players on the field. Not only are his contributions evident in the stat sheet, but as a sophomore, he is already calling the shots for UB’s defense.
Brian Lara is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org