HUNTINGTON — During Tuesday’s spring football practice, Marshall University defensive end Darius Hodge sprinted through the line and busted up a play, which prompted offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey to joke with him, pat him on the back, give him a half-hug and go on about his way.
The defensive call didn’t necessarily have Hodge going into position to make the play, but the sophomore from Wake Forest, North Carolina, sniffed out what the offense was doing and used his athleticism to dart into the backfield for the play, which brought both laughs and coaching.
After the practice, all parties were still joking about the play, as Cramsey illustrated.
“That kid is special, man,” Cramsey said. “See the ball, get the ball. He’s after it like that all the time.”
That energy level is what makes Hodge such a valuable asset to the Marshall defensive front.
Coming out of Wake Forest High School, Hodge put up video game-like numbers as a senior.
Need proof? How about a senior year that included 136 tackles, nine quarterback sacks, eight interceptions, seven blocked punts and two forced fumbles.
Those numbers helped lead Wake Forest to a 4AA state championship in 2016 and had him committed to N.C. State. However, academic issues forced him to take another path that brought him to Huntington.
After getting his academics in order, Hodge took the field in 2018 for the Thundering Herd and showed the same level of energy and playmaking ability that made him a force in high school.
First, Hodge made his mark on special teams, being the catalyst during a stretch when Marshall’s punt block team forced a turnover or got a score in four straight games. Hodge blocked one kick and had another pressure which forced a punter to tuck the ball, which turned into a fumble return for a touchdown.
Then, the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl came and Hodge showed what he could do at defensive end.
After Marshall took a 7-0 lead, Hodge sacked South Florida quarterback Blake Barnett on one play before coming back the very next play to strip Barnett and return the ball 29 yards to the 1-yard line.
It was a breakout performance that showed the Herd exactly what potential they have in Hodge, who remains focused on going one day at a time.
“I’m just trying to squeeze everything in and be coachable,” Hodge said. “I fly around with the team. We want to communicate a lot and buy in on and off the field. It’s just about coming together as one right now.”
Hodge’s presence could be pivotal for the Herd, which has a pair of experienced defensive ends in Ty Tyler and Marquis Couch. However, if Hodge is able to make a big leap after gaining experience last year, Tyler could shift inside for some downs and give the Herd an uber-athletic defensive front look.
All it takes is looking at spring practice to see how disruptive Hodge can be from a playmaking and energy standpoint.
On Saturday, Hodge got into the backfield and tackled running back Brenden Knox, bringing about a celebration dance from Hodge as the defense ran over. Knox, one of the most level-headed players on the Herd offense, fired the football at Hodge, which had Hodge clapping and smiling ear-to-ear through his helmet.
“I’m not going to lie, I was shocked when he got up and responded,” Hodge said. “I didn’t think he’d do it. At the end of the day, we’re still teammates and still family. It’s all love.”
While the play in practice was a fun moment, it also showed Hodge’s ability to get inside the heads of those on the offensive side of the football.
They are looking to find where he is on the field, and that gives Hodge an advantage.
In 10 games last season, Hodge finished with 12 tackles, including three for loss and two sacks while registering another three QB hurries, a fumble recovery and the blocked kick.
No matter what role he’s in, Hodge has one mentality for the Herd: “See the ball, attack the ball.”
And he’s having a ball doing it.