Keeping the faith: KhaDarel Hodge lives NFL dream with Rams

Like thousands in college football and millions across the country, KhaDarel Hodge was determined to play in the National Football League.

That dream is being realized as the Prairie View A&M graduate is a rookie wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams. After having a strong preseason, and beginning the first two weeks of the season on the practice squad, Hodge has played in all 14 games he has been on the active roster for the 13-3 Rams. Los Angeles won the NFC Western Division title and will host a divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys Saturday at 7:15 p.m. in a nationwide telecast on FOX.

If only it were that easy.

Yes, Hodge put up big numbers during his PV career, catching more than 100 passes for nearly 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns in earning first-team All-SWAC and Black College All-America honors. In his final home game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, he broke one of the oldest and most revered records in Panther football history. His 232 receiving yards against Arkansas-Pine Bluff eclipsed the 198-yard game accomplished by Otis Taylor in 1964.

Hodge’s name wasn’t called on draft weekend, but he did get a call from the Rams to come for a tryout in May. He didn’t get offered a contract, but he caught their eye and was told to stay by the phone. All across the league, many players were given the same message.

Yet Hodge himself hadn’t made the right call yet.

“I can say it was tough,” Hodge said of the waiting game. “After the first workout, they told me to stay by the phone. I didn’t make it, but to stay by the phone, that something might come up after OTAs (organized team activities, basically an off-season training camp). So I put it in my head to stay ready. I went home and worked out every day, started talking to the Lord more. The blessing came.”

Hodge is from D’Lo, Mississippi, about 30 miles southeast of Jackson, population 452. He has a twin sister named KhaDijah, another sister, Jazelle, and an older brother, Jerel. All four of them were raised by his mother, Michelle, whose health challenges made things difficult.

Los Angeles Rams gear up for the NFL playoffs
Rooike wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge (11) went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Dtaft before given a tryout with the Los Angeles Rams. Hodge suited up for 14 of the 16 regular season games the Rams played. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams

“I know the struggle,” Hodge said. “I would be sick to my stomach to see her in pain. I put in my head that I’m the chosen one. I’m going to be the one to get her out of this situation. Just to see her struggle—I can’t even say check to check, because she couldn’t work; she has a sleep disorder—but seeing her always find a way, I knew I could. She found a way to provide for us, even when she didn’t have it. That’s why I just thank her and everything she’s done for me and my family. I knew I had to get her out of the situation.”

Hodge’s twin sister, KhaDijah, told him the call he needed to make.

“She said, ‘Big Red, you don’t know how to pray,’” Michelle said. “He went and did what he had to do. I said to him, ‘You need to go to church no matter what. Go to church, somebody’s church. Keep the faith.’ When the Rams called him, I was speechless.”

Hodge listened to the wisdom and made his own call in June.

“One day I was in church and went up to alter call and said, ‘I’m looking for a blessing,’” Hodge said. “As soon as I left church, the Rams called me and said ‘We want you to come in. You have a month to get ready, so take advantage of it and be ready.’ That was just a blessing from God.”

In July, he went back to California for another workout with the Rams.

“I went in for the workout and ended up being the best receiver in the workout,” Hodge said. “I was walking off the field, they said ‘You’re signed.’ I couldn’t do anything but thank God. That was just a blessing right there. To come from sitting at home to actually being on the roster and playing is a life-changing experience.”

Always a great athlete, Hodge was a three-year starting quarterback at nearby Mendenhall High and had more than 5,000 yards as a passer and runner, scoring nearly 70 touchdowns, earning a scholarship to Alcorn in 2013.

However, the Braves were deep at the position, and in 2014 he transferred to Hinds Community College. Moved to wide receiver, Hodge played in five plays that season.

Late that year, Prairie View A&M football made a coaching change, hiring Willie Simmons as head coach. Simmons had been offensive coordinator at Alcorn the previous three seasons and saw Hodge’s talent at Alcorn. Under former Panther receivers’ coach Reggie Moore, Hodge soaked up the knowledge.

“Before coming to PV, I really didn’t know anything about playing receiver,” Hodge said. “I thank God I met Coach Moore. He got me ready to play receiver. I started from zero, took in everything he said and learned to listen to him. I took everything he taught me to the field and worked. I’m still learning, but that experience got me ready for who I am today.”

It’s important for undrafted rookie free agents trying to make the team to catch the attention of coaches early in camp. Hodge did just that, making a diving catch for a touchdown in the fourth quarter or the first preseason game at Baltimore. From there, a big play in the first half against Oakland led to him starting the final two preseason games, finishing with eight reception for 100 yards and a touchdown.

Now, just over a year after graduating from Prairie View A&M with a degree in kinesiology and competing in the purple and gold, Hodge now competes in the blue and gold of one of the best teams in pro football, with the Rams now only two wins away from playing in the Super Bowl.

“It’s a blessing to actually be on TV instead of just practicing,” Hodge said. “Coming out here and being involved and contributing to us winning. I can’t say enough about it. It’s a blessing.”

Source: Prairie View A&M Athletics

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