Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | 2 a.m.
When football comes on the television at the Hodge house, 3-year-old Cameron Hodge usually makes a quick observation to her father.
“When she sees football on TV, she’ll say, ‘Daddy it is football players. Those are your friends,’” said Sidney Hodge, a UNLV senior defensive back. “It could be an NFL game and she’ll tell me those are my friends.”
Hodge is back playing with his friends.
After suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the Rebels’ second game last fall, Hodge returned to the practice field Monday for the start of spring practice. He’s only a half participant while waiting to get medically cleared, but when healthy should provide the Rebels depth in pass-defending packages.
Hodge, a 2009 Palo Verde High graduate, has more than 20 career starts at corner for the Rebels. He’s also learning how to play safety, realizing his best chance to impact the roster is by being versatile. Once healthy, he’ll also need to get cleared for a medical red-shirt by the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility, which should be a formality.
“Guys who can cover are valuable,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “It is a tough position to play. He has played a lot of football. It is going to be real competitive for guys to get on the field. For us to have depth at the corner, it will open up a lot of things.”
After gray-shirting in 2009, Hodge was a regular in UNLV’s defensive back rotation the next three seasons and one of the Rebels’ most reliable players. In 2011, he was sixth in the team with 53 tackles. The following season he had 60 tackles, including four tackles for a loss.
While Hodge was turning in solid performances, UNLV struggled in winning just two games each season. But, with him out of the lineup in 2013, the Rebels had their best season in more than a decade in winning seven games and playing the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Hodge wasn’t part of the wins. He didn’t experience a bowl, watching from home in Las Vegas and not traveling to the bowl game.
It would be easy to assume missing out on the great season was difficult for Hodge. That’s a false assumption.
“The team having a good year helped the program as a whole and that’s what’s important,” Hodge said. “It was fun watching people step up and develop, and perform well. It was a big milestone for the program.”
While UNLV was off having its breakthrough season, Hodge was also enjoying some life achievements. His wife, Natiyah, gave birth to their son in the fall just weeks after his surgery, and he graduated with a degree in liberal arts. He’s studying for a master’s degree in public administration.
Hodge will spend most of the spring getting the strength back in his shoulder. He should be ready for fall camp.
“It’s good to have him back out here. He’s a guy who loves to play,” Hauck said.
Cameron hasn’t missed a UNLV home game, giving Hodge another reason to enjoy his last go-round in the UNLV secondary. His son will be in the stands this season, too.