University of Iowa linebacker Abdul Hodge recently took time to answer a few questions from SCS.com. Hodge, who turned down a shot at the NFL last winter, is a returning senior in Iowa City. The Florida native, who has already picked up preseason honors from media publications like NationalChamps.net and The Sporting News, was recently named to the Nagurski and Lott Trophy Watch Lists. The Hawkeyes, coming off a 10-2 season that included a Capital One Bowl victory over LSU, will open the 2005 season on September 3 at home against Ball State. (photo courtesy hawkeyesports.com)
ABDUL HODGE, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
SCS.com: You had a stellar career at Boyd Anderson High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Following your senior season, you earned all-conference, all-state, and all-American honors from various sources. But before your high school years, you were born in and moved from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Talk first about moving to a new country, and also talk about your choice to attend the University of Iowa. What other schools did you consider, and why did you ultimately decide to become a Hawkeye?
Hodge: "After a few years of living in St. Thomas, my father wanted to start his own businesses, and he felt as if Atlanta was a good city to do so. A few years later, my parents seperated and my brothers and I, along with my mom, moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida where a lot of my family was located. Coming from the Islands to the U.S. was different. It seemed more crowded, and it was more diverse as far as culture goes. But I adapted to the situation very smoothly. Iowa was my second college visit; Auburn was the first. After coming to Iowa and meeting with the coaches, talking to the players, and seeing how involved the community was with Hawkeye football, it became more realistic to me that this is a place that I will enjoy playing college football. At the time we weren't really good, but I could detect that the determination and work ethic was present in the program, and one day that will turn into something special. So far so good!"
SCS.com: After redshirting in 2001, you became an immediate contributor on defense. As a freshman in 2002, you saw action in all thirteen games. As a sophomore in 2003, you earned First Team All-Big Ten honors. And then last fall, you again earned all-conference honors and also picked up a number of all-American honors. What does the national recognition mean not only to you but to your team and your school?
Hodge: "It's a good thing. As an individual, it's a good indicator on how well you're doing, and it's also good for our team and universtiy to be acknowledged nationally for positive things."
SCS.com: After several fabulous seasons on campus, you could have chosen to head for the NFL and have a large paycheck coming your way this fall. Instead you chose to stay in Iowa City and help lead this Hawkeye team for one final season. What were the biggest factors that led you to come back to Iowa, and what makes college football so special to you?
Hodge: "Anything I do, I want to be the best at it. Coming back for my last year gives me an opportunity to work hard for another year, giving me a chance to become the best inside backer in college football. I also have some things that I really need to work on before taking that step to the next level. I want whoever gives me an opportunity to play for them (in the NFL) to know that they have a complete product...period!"
SCS.com: As we approach the start of the 2005 season, you have begun to receive numerous preseason honors. CollegeFootballNews.com has named you as the country's fourth-best linebacker, while NationalChamps.net has named the Iowa linebackers the best in the nation. You have also been named to the 2005 Lott Trophy Watch List. That award will be handed out at season's end to the nation's best defensive player. How do you handle the high expectations others have put on you, and tell about one or two specific things you've worked to improve on in the offseason.
Hodge: "I don't think anyone can place any expectations higher than I place on myself. I'm very hard on myself, so other people's expectations of me aren't a factor. I approach every year the same, and that's to play my best football week in and week out. Everthing else will fall in place. There are many things that I'm working on this offseason. I'm trying to be the fastest and quickest I've ever been, as well as the strongest. Football wise, I'm working on playing lower and reacting quicker than I ever have in the past."
SCS.com: Last year's Capital One Bowl was perhaps the most memorable bowl game of the season. You and the Hawkeyes rallied to take down the LSU Tigers when QB Drew Tate hit WR Warren Holloway for a 56-yard touchdown as time expired, winning the game 30-25. That is a game most college football fans will remember for quite some time. Talk about that game, the excitement it brought, and how you will remember it in the years to come.
Hodge: "First off, LSU is a very tough, talented team that played hard the whole game. We also played hard the whole game, but were able to come out on top on the last play of the game. That was a game filled with lots of emotions, and the win was big for our program, especially giving us momentum into this season."
SCS.com: After losing two of the first four games last season, the Hawkeyes won the final eight they played in 2004, including that dramatic Capital One Bowl. Expectations are again high for Iowa in 2005. Athlon has ranked the squad number three in its preseason poll, while The Sporting News ranks Iowa number ten. What goals have been set for this season, both for yourself personally and for the team as a whole, and how far do you think this team can go?
Hodge: "We are not a program who prides itself on what we're going to do. All we know right now is that we must get better. We can't pay attention to rankings or what we see in magazines because those things are irrelevant right now. Myself, I have goals, but I'd rather focus on the steps that it takes to get there rather than the goals themselves."
SCS.com: Your head coach Kirk Ferentz has done wonders at Iowa during his six years on campus. The team put together the best two-year run in school history in 2002 and 2003, combining to go 21-5 during those two campaigns. Coach Ferentz was named the Associated Press and Walter Camp Football Foundation Coach of the Year in 2002. What makes him such a success at Iowa, both on the field and on the recruiting trail?
Hodge: "Ferentz is a genius. He knows what he's doing, he's a good motivator, and as a player, we love to play for him. It's really an honor to play for him."
SCS.com: You've had the chance to visit some of college football's best stadiums while on campus the last three seasons. Since 2002, you've been to places like Michigan, Arizona State, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and more. Talk about the differences you face when playing on the road compared to playing at home, and also tell us how much of a difference you think the fans can make during a game.
Hodge: "There are many tough stadiums to play in across college football. I think our stadium is really tough to play in. Our fans are always electric, and we really feed off of them and it has shown with our home record. Playing on the road can also be tough but moreso for offenses. But it does not matter where you play, you just have to be ready to play your best football."
SCS.com: Leadership and a good education look to be very important to you. You were one of three sophomores selected to the team's Leadership Council in 2003 and one of three juniors selected to that same group a season ago. You earned the team's Defensive Hustle Award in both 2003 and 2004 as well. In 2002 you earned the team's Special Teams Coaches' Appreciation Award, and you were a member of the National Honor Society in high school. Why do you feel it is necessary to put such an emphasis on your education, and talk about a few of the ways you lead your team by example, both on and off the field.
Hodge: "Education is very important, especially with how things are in our socity today. Having a degree gives you power and opens doors of opportunity to live productively. As a leader, I always lead by example, but to be an effective leader, you have to first gain the respect and trust from your teammates and coaches. On and off the field, I try to do things the right way at all times, showing others how to do things on a championship level either on or off the field."
SCS.com: If a young player was reading this and aspired to become a successful football player, what advice would you give him?
Hodge: "Continue to work hard and out-work your opponent. That's the only way you can become the best."
SCS.com would again like to thank Iowa's Abdul Hodge for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Hawkeyes the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
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