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Steelers’ season could rest in the hands of QB Devlin Hodges

by Ace Damon
Steelers' season could rest in the hands of QB Devlin Hodges

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Out of work on the first Saturday of September, after being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Devlin Hodges sat at his parents' house in Kimberly, Alabama, texted his high school coach Dusty Goode and asked Goode if he wanted to come. and watch football.

As evening turned to night and LSU slowly drifted away from Texas, the quarterback that last year at Mortimer Jordan High made Goode's decision to install the option because it gave Blue Devils the best chance of winning – even though their numbers diminish and potentially limit your college options – talked about the future.

There was a chance to exercise at the New York Jets. Perhaps the XFL will find room for the most prolific passer in the history of the football league subdivision. Hodges was unsure of anything beyond the notion that he was not ready to post bail.

"He's not like that," Goode said on Wednesday. "And look where he went. He stopped having nothing, having everything."

Or at least one chance at all. Alabama coach Nick Saban considered it too small to fit Crimson Tide, who is a duck champion in his time off, who was not hired after leaving Samford last spring and only made the Steelers after having perform well in a match. race, could run to the field with beginners on Sunday night when Pittsburgh (1-4) visits the Los Angeles Chargers (2-3).

While Mason Rudolph returned to training on Wednesday, an important step in his recovery from a daunting concussion suffered in Sunday's defeat to Baltimore, Hodges worked with the beginners and didn't look exactly out of place. Intoxicating territory for the 23-year-old affectionately known as "Duck" by his teammates after Tomers coach Mike Tomlin dubbed Hodges "Duck Dynasty" during off-season training.

Yes, in a way things happened quickly. Hodges went from unemployed to training team to primary backup, completing 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards in the second half of a crucial division game at Heinz Field within a month. He knows his story is unlikely. At least for everyone but Hodges.

"It's a crazy process from the start to come here for a test," he said. “I told some people before that if I play in the NFL five years, ten years, all this kind of story fits in who I am. It just shows (with) hard work, confidence and belief in yourself that you can realize your dreams. "

Hodges talks with a little accent that belies his education in Kimberly, a town of about 3,000 located 20 minutes north of Birmingham. He has been playing touchdown passes since he was 5, but when Goode arrived to take over Mortimer Jordan in 2013, the Blue Devils were in the process of rebuilding.

So Goode asked Hodges to execute the option, a decision that limited Hodges's opportunities to show his right arm, but also kept the team's defense off the field. Hodges's numbers were modest – he played 1,748 yards and 15 touchdowns last year – but the team turned a corner. Mortimer Jordan reached the playoffs that fall, the beginning of a rise that made them a perennial candidate in Alabama.

"It was a big deal," Goode said. "He kind of helped create the foundation and we've reaped the benefits ever since."

Still, the major colleges were not interested in the 1.5m Hodges. Goode told anyone who wanted to hear that Hodges "doesn't measure well," but played with a gunslinger mentality that reminded him a bit of Brett Favre Hall of Fame. Saban wasn't interested, telling Goode that Hodges "wasn't big enough." So Hodges eventually chose to stay close to home, playing four years at Samford on I-65 in Birmingham.

Everything Hodges has done over the course of four years set a FCS record by releasing 14,584 yards, breaking the mark set by former Tennessee Titans star Steve McNair. Still, when the NFL draft came and went, the phone didn't ring. He was silent even after the teams began making offers to unprepared free agents. The Steelers finally brought him in for a look, and it wasn't long before all the mix of talent and fearlessness that Goode saw at school became apparent.

"He had that feeling," said Mike Hilton, Steelers quarterback. "We saw him make a lot of pitches that were probably undisclosed, trying to form a team, they wouldn't make."

Although he played well during camp and preseason, he was caught in the NFL's financial realities. The Steelers were defined as quarterback with Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs. Then Hodges returned to Alabama and left, a man without a team for the first time in his life. It was weird. It didn't last either.

Pittsburgh switched Dobbs to Jacksonville on September 9. Roethlisberger then lost the season with an elbow injury on September 14. When Rudolph fell unconscious on the lawn of Heinz camp on Sunday, after being hit by the chin by Earl Thomas, Hodges of Baltimore trotted into the huddle without caring about the world.

Back in Alabama, Goode was reviewing tapes at the school cottage. He put the phone on the windowsill – the only place he could get decent reception – and checked it every 30 minutes. In the middle of the afternoon, the messages came in a flood. All saying the same thing: “The duck is in! The duck is in!

Hodges led Pittsburgh to a pair of scoring goals. Although Baltimore got the extra-time victory after the JuJu Smith-Schuster disaster, Hodges – for at least two quarters – looked like he belonged. Noting the highlights, Goode was not surprised.

"We talked to our players before the game was played a thousand times in their head," said Goode. “Devlin played this game over and over. He played TD passes. He has already found some. He drove them to drive. He may not have done it physically yet, but he did it mentally. "

The chance to do both could come up again on national television on Sunday night in Los Angeles, where Pittsburgh's chances of catching up with a rebellious season back on track may rest on the light but arrogant shoulders of a player no one I wanted six months ago.

"He has the factor," said Goode. "He always did."

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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