Baylor or TCU?
Tomlinson, a TCU legend who refers to his nephew by his middle name “Deon,” wasn’t going to pressure his nephew to follow in his footsteps to Fort Worth. If Hodges felt Baylor fit him better, Tomlinson would’ve understood.
But the two talked about Hodges’ desire to become an NFL player. Hodges had a standout high school career at Waco Midway as a defensive back, and is projected to become a shutdown cornerback and returner at the next level.
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So a big factor in the decision-making process centered on which program would put Hodges in the best position to reach his potential and give him a chance of reaching the NFL.
“I told Deon from the jump -- you’re going to make this decision, I can’t make it for you,” Tomlinson told the Star-Telegram in a phone interview.
“I did tell him he needed to weigh which program develops NFL talent more and better, and there’s no question TCU has. It’s because of the stability of the coaching staff with Gary Patterson and his defensive back coaches and defensive coordinator. They’ve been together for a long time. They know how to coach NFL-caliber football players.
“That’s something I’m sure he thought about. I certainly told him, ‘If you want to go to the National Football League, you’ve got to think about which program will help you develop into a National Football League player.”
For Hodges, the decision was simple -- TCU.
Heck, it’s a program that helped develop his uncle, LaDainian, into a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back. Now, the hope is it helps another in the Tomlinson bloodline becomes an NFL talent.
At 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Hodges may be viewed as undersized. That’s not a new thing for his family; his uncle was too.
It’s actually something that TCU coach Gary Patterson likes because the size knock is something that motivates a player, even someone that comes from a Hall of Fame family.
“He’s a chip-on-the-shoulder dude,” Patterson said. “He’s a little undersized at corner, told he couldn’t do a lot of things. I think we’re going to be pleasantly surprised with him.”
Hodges should grow into his body, too. He is expected to be 5-foot-10 1/2 to 5-foot-11 and 195-200 pounds by the end of it.
That, coupled with his natural athletic instincts, makes him one of the more intriguing recruits in TCU’s 2019 class.
He’s ready to compete for snaps right away and ready to learn from veteran cornerbacks such as Jeff Gladney and Julius Lewis. He’s also ready to showcase his skills as a return man.
Hodges has the background to make an immediate impact, too, considering he’s trained with Tomlinson every summer during his high school career.
“This kid has had NFL-style training, he’s been through NFL-style workouts, so he has the work ethic,” Tomlinson said. “I know him like he’s my son and what he’s good at. He’s a great athlete for one. That’s why he played safety [in high school], they wanted him to run around and make plays, but he’s a natural cornerback. That’s what he’s going to play in college.
“You talk about speed, quickness, jumping ability, all of those things. He has it all.
“And he’s God-gifted in his return ability. He’ll be a special returner. I guarantee you that. He showed glimpses in the little opportunities he had to touch the ball in high school. I do believe he will add value to TCU right away as a returner.”
Returner is a position with no clear-cut answer going into next season. Maybe Hodges sees the field early on by going that route.
But one thing is for certain -- he won’t be intimidated by being LaDainian Tomlinson’s nephew. That’s something Hodges has lived with his entire life.
He welcomes that spotlight. He embraces that challenge. He could’ve easily avoided being in his uncle’s shadow by going to Baylor, but that’s not in the family’s DNA.
The Tomlinson’s are always ready to work and prove themselves.
“TCU is a very competitive program and I’m a competitive player,” said Hodges, who is the son of Tomlinson’s brother’s daughter.
“My uncle said you have to go there and work. Everything isn’t going to be given to you. I know that and I’m going to accept the challenge. It’ll be nice.”
Hodges described himself as a versatile defensive back who has the ability to play safety and cornerback. He compared himself to bringing similar traits of former LSU defensive back and current Houston Texans player Tyrann Mathieu.
He also mentioned former Oregon standout and current Kansas City Chiefs returner De’Anthony Thomas and former TCU returner KaVontae Turpin as those who he compares with in the return game.
At the end of the day, Hodges feels he has enough potential to thrive and shine with the Frogs and one day become a Pro Frog. It’s hard to argue given his family history.
“One of the biggest reasons I chose TCU is because, out of all the schools, TCU is known for putting DBs into the NFL,” Hodges said. “That’s why TCU was my dream school.”