Alabama native, former Samford star quarterback leads Pittsburgh Steelers to primetime win
Devlin “Duck” Hodges’ story might just be made for Hollywood. But it was made in Alabama.
Hodges fits his hometown of Kimberly well. The former Jefferson County coal mining hotspot prides itself on the motto, “Small City, Big Heart.”
A graduate of Mortimer Jordan High School and record setter at Samford University, Hodges is used to being the underdog.
And, as Sunday night once again proved, he excels at it.
Hodges overcame all odds just to land in the NFL at all.
A four year starter at Samford, he won the Walter Payton Award for the 2018 season (his senior one) and broke the career passing yards record for the FCS previously set by the late, great Steve McNair.
However, coming out of a small school, not particularly tall himself relative to most NFL quarterbacks as well, Hodges is the type of guy that most write off as being done with the sport competitively after graduating college.
It looks like someone forgot to tell Hodges.
After going undrafted in the 2019 NFL draft, he has kept fighting.
First, to land on the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent in May. And then, after being cut from the team on the very last day of the preseason, he still did not give up on his dream.
In the ultra-competitive world of professional sports, careers are made or lost by the ability to seize chances.
Fortunes can change with the wind, as Hodges’ story shows.
In fact, ESPN reported, “A month ago, Hodges was at home in Alabama, mowing his mom’s lawn.”
From yard work to the Birmingham airport, Hodges was about to board a flight to tryout for another team when his door back to the Steelers opened.
Pittsburgh had just traded their third-string quarterback, and before he could get on the plane for that other NFL city, the Steelers were on the phone with Hodges asking him to join their practice squad.
Yet, his time on the practice squad was short lived when Steelers legend Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season ending-injury the next week, making Hodges the back up to Mason Rudolph.
And, from his mom’s lawn on to an NFL field, Hodges’ whirlwind past several weeks escalated again last Sunday when Rudolph suffered a concussion mid-game against the Ravens.
In came Hodges, who made his home state and alma mater proud with that substitute performance. He completed seven of nine pass attempts for 68 yards and one touchdown, for a passer rating of 98.1.
But his “moment,” his “arrival,” did not come until this Sunday.
With the 1-4 Steelers’ season desperately needing a change in fortunes, all eyes turned to Hodges.
Pittsburgh and its undrafted rookie quarterback would have to travel to Los Angeles — in the primetime slot, nonetheless — for his first career start.
The perennial underdog did not disappoint, turning heads across the nation.
As The Washington Post reported, “[Hodges] was poised in the pocket and accurate with his throws Sunday in a 15-for-20, 132-yard passing performance. He threw a touchdown pass… and played mistake-free football until a fourth-quarter interception.”
The Steelers won 24-17, seemingly giving their season renewed hope — something Hodges surely knows plenty about.
Oh — and if there was any doubt about his Yellowhammer State roots, his nickname is about as Alabama as you can get. He is called “Duck” because of his love of duck calling and duck hunting. In fact, as good a quarterback as he continues to prove himself, Hodges also boasts an excellent resume in the outdoors sporting arena. He is a former junior world duck calling champion and just last year won the Alabama state duck calling championship.
Hodges even wore a t-shirt, one he said he bought yesterday especially for the occasion that has a cartoon duck on it, pregame and postgame — including for his press conference.
The Alabamian talked about the magnitude of the moment, how he handled it so calmly and what it was like to be awarded a game-ball for his performance.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 14, 2019
According to the NFL, Hodges on Sunday night became the first quarterback to beat Philip Rivers in a first career start. Additionally, the Alabamian is now only the ninth undrafted rookie QB to win his first career start in the league’s Common Draft era.
Read more about Hodges’ incredible journey from ESPN here.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn