No combine necessary

Khalil Hodge not deterred from NFL dream after snub

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No player has more tackles over the last three seasons than Khalil Hodge. At 419 total tackles, he has 73 more than the next-highest player in college football.

This week marks the annual NFL combine where the top prospects across all of college football will perform drills in front of coaches, scouts and general managers from all 32 NFL teams. In total, over 300 athletes were invited to compete, 37 of which are linebackers, eight of which are from mid-major conferences and not one was named Khalil Hodge. 

Hodge didn’t receive an invite to the NFL combine this year. The star linebacker that led UB’s defense to its first bowl game since 2013 found out he wouldn’t be joining teammates Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson in Indianapolis. Their days may have been filled with joy and almost the guarantee of being an NFL draft pick, while Hodge had to put his head down and get back to work.

“God’s plan,” Hodge said. “It is what it is and that’s what God planned out for me already.”

Hodge was raised in the church, a place he’s always looked to for guidance and somewhere he spent a lot of time. He recorded 262 tackles in his senior season at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, California.

But while he has found success on the gridiron, he’s faced numerous adversities off.

Hodge and teammates were furious when Buffalo wasn’t selected for a bowl game following the 2017 season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only heart-breaking news Hodge dealt with that day.

Hodge’s brother Kadeem was killed the previous night. He found out the next afternoon, only hours after his bowl dreams were crushed.

Today, Hodge can be spotted wearing a sleeve with his brothers’ birthday and death date during games.

“It’s definitely motivation, you know, but it’s still hard to get over, I’m never going to,” Hodge said. “It’s still hard to deal with sometimes but just little stuff like that I just do it to keep him in my mind and understand everything I’m doing.”

Hodge grew up with football. He remembers being 5 years old and his dad placing a ball in his hands. He picked it up and ran with it.

His father instilled in him that football was his way out. Football is what got Hodge through high school and into college and now it serves as not only a way to improve his situation but his family as well.

Hodge is unlike most seniors fresh out of college. Instead of having a job immediately after graduating or frantically trying to find one, he’s training at the EXOS combine training facility in San Diego, California.

Hodge still has his degree and will put it to use only if necessary. His only focus for now is achieving his childhood dream of playing in the NFL.

To hear his name called on draft day would mean “the world” to him.

“If that phone calls on draft day, it will be the opportunity of a lifetime,” Hodge said. “Something I won’t take for granted and just another opportunity to make my parents and entire family proud.”

Even if Hodge doesn’t receive the call, he could still end up like former Bull Demone Harris who went undrafted and found playing time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers toward the end of last season.

“It just means you’re going to have to work harder and get ready,” Hodge said. “I know that I’m planning to stick in the NFL no matter how I get in.”

Hodge compares himself to Eric Kendricks of the Minnesota Vikings, Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks and Thomas Davis of the Carolina Panthers. He knows he can be a three-down linebacker and sideline-to-sideline tackler in the NFL.

Hodge, unlike at the combine, will only have one chance to prove to limited NFL teams that he can do that.

UB’s pro-day is scheduled for March 13 at the Buffalo Bills AdPro Sports Training Center. It is the last opportunity Hodge has to show off in front of scouts before the NFL draft.

It could be the last time the California native steps onto a field or the beginning of a long career.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Hodge said. “I feel like it’s definitely not going to get to me because I apply so much to myself but it’s one of the hardest job interviews in the world and I’m going to treat it like such. I’ve been working for these past three months, and it’s my opportunity to show that I’m ready.”

Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at nathaniel.mendelson@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson.