You have never seen senior Zach Hodges quite like this, you might have thought if you went to Harvard football practice this week.
Maybe you have seen Hodges line up many times, hands on the turf like an elite sprinter, ready to attack his prey with unmatched ferocity.
Even when he is not in the game, you notice him, always dancing, all arms and exuberance. You can’t miss him: No. 99 in the fluorescent cap, armbands, and socks.
But at a practice this week, you could. You could have gone down to Harvard Stadium and watched a two-hour practice while hardly catching a glimpse of the man they call “Sack Hodges.”
If you did that, you probably left confused as to why Hodges is considered one of the country’s top NFL prospects. You probably asked yourself why Hodges was so different. You had never seen him like that.
Let me explain.
Maybe you missed him because he is playing a different position. Straying from his spot on the right tackle’s shoulder, Hodges is practicing standing up as a hybrid lineman/linebacker this year.
It is not often that a reigning Ivy League Player of the Year changes positions, but Harvard coach Tim Murphy said Hodges’ new role better exploits his versatility.
“He’s a guy you will see in a lot of different places,” Murphy said. “He can drop [back in coverage], he can rush, [and] he can play inside as a linebacker.”
The move will help Hodges’ NFL chances, as he projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at the next level. Murphy said that if an NFL scout asked a year ago about Hodges’ ability to seamlessly transition to that position in the pros, Murphy’s response would have been “it is hard to picture.”
Now though, Murphy added, “there is no question.”
Hodges has already been named to the watch list for the 2014 Butkus Award, given to the country’s top linebacker. He is the only FCS player to make the list.
Dane Brugler, an NFL Draft analyst for CBSsports.com recently labeled Hodges a “potential top-100 prospect” in the 2015 draft. The site lists him as the nation’s No. 2 senior linebacker, behind only Clemson’s Vic Beasley. Hodges is projected as a second or third-round pick on the site.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been sort of amazed by his instant ability as a linebacker,” Murphy said. “He’s probably even more of a natural when he’s in a two-point stance at the second level [compared to playing defensive end].”
All that hype probably made you look particularly hard for Hodges during practice.