Gerald Hodges' football career has been about adapting, persevering, and producing. And now it will be about adjusting - to the NFL.
The Penn State linebacker and former all-South Jersey performer from Paulsboro was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round, the 120th player chosen.
"It's a blessing when my name was called, and now I get a chance to put a franchise on my helmet," Hodges said by phone.
The 6-foot-1, 243-pounder began his college career as a safety but moved to linebacker. He had to deal with more than the usual issues at Penn State.
There was the Jerry Sandusky scandal, when the team was issued several sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban.
The players had the option to transfer and be eligible immediately, and Hodges had his share of interested schools.
"I had a number of colleges calling me and trying to find out his intention, but his dad said he would remain loyal to Penn State and I relayed that to the schools who inquired," Paulsboro coach Glenn Howard said.
Hodges, who had 109 tackles, including 81/2 for loss, and two interceptions as a senior, saud he greatly benefited from the decision to stay at Penn State.
"With everything that went on, I got a lot of life experiences," he said. "You can't help but become a better man and football player going through that type of adversity."
Not all the players stayed, but Penn State still finished 8-4 and was among the most surprising stories in college football.
"I believe God put me back at Penn State for a reason," he said.
Hodges, who was also a high school quarterback, played for one of the top coaches in South Jersey history in Howard. The coach competed at the University of Minnesota, and now Hodges will be playing pro football in the state.
"Coach played college ball in Minnesota, and he was really happy for me," Hodges said. "Coach Howard taught me so much, mental and physical toughness and the basic fundamentals, and helped me in so many areas."
Howard was naturally excited to see his former player drafted.
"He is a great person who comes from a great family, and I couldn't be happier for him," Howard said.
Hodges said his first rookie camp was eye-opening. He was diligent in the meetings, saying that he wrote everything down, and his goal is to learn as much as he can about the Vikings defense before training camp.
He said that his final season at Penn State was great preparation for the NFL, since Nittany Lions first-year coach Bill O'Brien came over after being the offensive coordinator for New England.
"I want to thank Coach O'Brien for getting me prepared," he said. "The practices we ran at Penn State are the ones we are going to be running here, fast-paced and quick."
As a former defensive back, Hodges is known for his coverage skills, which is something that attracted the Vikings to him.
"He is very good in coverage . . ." Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told reporters when reviewing his draft picks. "He has the unique background of being a defensive back. . . . He still moves around like a safety, yet he is physical enough to play as a linebacker."
Hodges said he would do anything to help the team, playing inside or outside as a linebacker, and contributing on special teams. He understands that much hard work is ahead. But it all starts by getting a chance and, in his case, being drafted.
"This is a dream come true," he said. "I have had so many great experiences in football, and I am so excited to have the chance to realize a lifelong dream."
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