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Penn State Football: With NFL Dream on Hold, Gerald Hodges Aims to Become Next Great Linebacker

by on April 17, 2012 9:45 PM

Gerald Hodges is coming off a breakout season a year ago. He could have left school as a junior and been more focused on next week's NFL Draft than Saturday's Blue-White Game.

Alas, he opted for a college degree and another season in Beaver Stadium, and now the narrative surrounding Hodges is clear.

Is he ready to take the next step and earn a place in the annals of Linebacker U?

“He’s what you would picture in a Penn State linebacker,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said last week. “He’s poised to have a very good year for us.”

How good?

All-America good?

“Of course I think about it,” Hodges said. “That’s like a top goal. I don’t go out at practice like, ‘I gotta get this award.’ It’s a team thing. I go out there and if it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

One of the major talking points of the spring is O’Brien not watching any offensive tape from last season.

That’s not entirely true.

“I ran through the Alabama game,” O’Brien said at a recent Associated Press Sports Editors meeting in State College. “I wanted to see a national championship program and how we matched up. I watched that whole game, both sides of the ball and special teams.”

If that showed him anything, it may have reaffirmed the talent he has practicing at strong side linebacker and on various special teams units this spring. Hodges recorded a career-high 11 tackles against the national champion Crimson Tide and parlayed that into a first-team All-Big Ten selection from the coaches in his first full season as a starter.

Hodges led Penn State with 106 tackles, including 10 for loss and 4.5 sacks last year, adding two forced fumbles and an interception.

Now a senior, Hodges flirted with the idea of leaving early for the NFL after last season.

He submitted his name to the NFL Draft Advisory Board for evaluation and draft projection, and his father fielded a call with that information when Hodges was in Dallas for the TicketCity Bowl.

But Hodges still hasn’t learned what the report said.

“He said, ‘You and I aren’t gonna go off of nobody,’ ” Hodges said. “ ‘It’s either you’re gonna go or you’re not. It’s either you feel like you can play or you feel like you can’t.’ I just prayed and made my decision after that.

Hodges also could have been tempted to make the jump early after watching Sean Lee and NaVorro Bowman carve out success before their third year in the NFL.

Both players, as well as recent PSU grads Dan Connor and Paul Posluszny, are proof that what linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden is teaching can translate to the NFL.

And Hodges has taken note.

“It makes you feel encouraged just to play with them and when you see them go to the next level they’ll still be top-notch players,” Hodges said. “Those same guys making those plays in the NFL were the same guys sitting in those chairs.”

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Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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