WASHINGTON – More than 600 yards and four touchdowns as an Arizona State receiver were not enough to get Curtis Hodges’ name called on NFL draft day. So Hodges did what he always does – he got to work.
“I understood the situation,” Hodges said this week. “I understood that I would have to go prove myself, but I knew I could play in this league.”
Apparently, he’s not the only one who feels that way: When the Washington Commanders host the Jacksonville Jaguars to open their season Sunday, Hodges will be on the Commanders’ sidelines, one of five tight ends on the team’s roster.
Growing up in Mesa, Hodges never imagined he would be playing professional football. He did not even start playing the game until his freshman year at Mountain View High School.
But once he started, he knew he wanted to keep playing at whatever level he could. He said he knew from that very first hit.
“I went to the practice field, and I just hit somebody,” he said. “He fell and the coach got happy and ran up to me and I got a pancake.”
Hodges said he’s always liked the physicality and the opportunity to knock other guys around. With his size, that comes as no surprise: Hodges is 6-foot-8 and weighs 240 pounds, according to his player profile with the Commanders.
But Mike Fell, the former head coach at Mountain View High School, knew there was something special about Hodges and it wasn’t just his size.
“The reason I knew Curtis was going to make it is his grades were poor when I got there, and I was telling him, you have to go the juco (junior college) route,” said Fell, who now coaches at McClintock High School. “And he said, ‘No, I can take two online classes and get them up.’
“He basically had to take, like, five classes in half the year to go for a D1 (Division I) scholarship and he did it,” Fell said.
That got him into ASU, which was attractive to Hodges because it let him stay close to home and develop under then-new coach Herm Edwards, a former NFL coach and player.
“I wanted to stay close to my family. I really liked the program and I still do,” Hodges said. “I had a lot of friends going there. It just seemed like the right idea.”
In five seasons at ASU, Hodges “became a better blocker,” said Randy Pagano, head strength coach at Mountain View. “He got more body weight on him.”
In his freshman season, Hodges accumulated 41 yards and a touchdown in nine games. Over the next three years, he totaled 186 yards and another TD in 20 games. But he was allowed a fifth season because of COVID-19, and he took advantage of it, amassing 374 yards and two more touchdowns in 12 appearances.
He also transitioned from wide receiver to tight end, the position he said feels more natural because he has always liked hitting and blocking.
Although he was not drafted, on May 1 he was able to sign a three-year, $2.5 million contract with the Commanders, $125,000 of which is guaranteed, according to spotrac.com, which tracks players contracts.
“I was so excited,” Hodges said. “It was just a dream come true.”
Hodges still had to prove himself in the preseason and push his way through four rounds of training camp cuts to land his spot on the 53-man roster for the start of the season.
“It was a special moment for sure,” he said of making the final cut. “I remember my mom calling me and she got all emotional, but you gotta turn around and get back to work the next day.”
Despite brief appearances in preseason, Hodges is currently on the Commanders’ injured reserve list nursing a thigh injury, and his status for Sunday’s game is unclear. But he said he has been running and is feeling good, and his focus now is on getting healthy and staying available.
Doing what he always does, in other words. Fell is not surprised.
“He’s just got to stay focused on what he’s got ahead,” Fell said. “He’s going to get an opportunity, he just has to take advantage of it.”