Jonah Hodges: man on a mission
It was the opening game of the 2015 season: a long-awaited match-up against crosstown rival San Diego State University in the concrete confines of San Diego’s longtime pigskin palace, Qualcomm Stadium.
Perhaps none were more excited than then-junior University of San Diego running back Jonah Hodges. It would be Hodges’ first game action against an FBS program since his transfer from the University of California, Berkeley after the 2013 season.
It also would come on the heels of what many saw as a breakout campaign for the one-time Golden Bear, a 2014 season that saw him average more than 100 yards a game, including a school-record 273 against Stetson, and score six touchdowns for the Toreros.
Unfortunately, that excitement quickly gave way to the frustrations of reality. On the last play of the first quarter against SDSU, Hodges caught a screen pass out of the backfield and was hit hard by an Aztec defender.
The awkward landing that ensued would knock the Northern California native out of the game. An MRI confirmed a broken collarbone would keep him off the field for most of the rest of the 2015 campaign.
Now healthy and back on the field for his senior season, Hodges is using that bad break of a year ago as motivation to finish his collegiate career on his terms.
“I hate wasted time,” Hodges said. “It’s why I transferred here in the first place and why last year was so hard for me. Now, I’m trying to do as much as I can to squeeze two seasons into one and make up for that lost time.”
The results have certainly been impressive so far. Through seven games in 2016, the Toreros’ co-captain has reestablished himself as the frontman of the team’s offensive attack, running for 715 yards while chipping in another 297 yards through the air. He averages more than 160 total yards per game, which ranks him among the top 10 in the country, as do his 11 total touchdowns.
Those frequent trips to the end zone are what Hodges says are the most special for him.
“It’s one of the best feelings ever,” Hodges said. “To see your hard work all week pay off and to be able to celebrate with your teammates […] there’s really nothing else like it.”
Hodges has been one of the focal points of what has been a dominant season overall for the boys in blue. Following last weekend’s 49-10 victory over Valparaiso, the Toreros sit at 6-1 atop the Pioneer Football League.
They’re outscoring opponents by more than 25 points a game and appear primed to make a run at the conference championship and an automatic bid to the playoffs.
After winning the league on a technicality in 2014 and losing it on a tiebreaker last year, Hodges said the team hopes to finally win it outright in 2016.
“Our goal is to go undefeated in conference, so we can solidify our chance at the playoffs,” Hodges said. “Once we’re there, we’ll definitely be looking to grow on our last postseason appearance and win a game or two.
“You can tell the guys here love the game of football and are going to put in the work to win, and it’s so fun to see that hard work pay off and to be able to enjoy these successes with them.”
The running back also recognized the opportunities that can come from the greater exposure of the postseason. Hodges said he likes to model his game after fellow small-school stud and current San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead.
“I love the vision and versatility he brings to the position despite being on the shorter end of the scale,” Hodges said.
If the senior can continue to put up strong numbers the rest of the way, he definitely stands a chance of following Woodhead and former Toreros Josh Johnson and Reggie Bell into the NFL. Set to graduate in December as a political science major, he plans to begin preparing for the draft almost immediately after his days as a Torero come to an end.
Before the pros come calling, however, Hodges has his sights set on finishing out his career at USD on a high note.
Several career and single-season school records seem well within reach, as do a second postseason appearance and that elusive first playoff victory.
“I’m just enjoying the opportunities I’ve been given,” Hodges said. “I’m excited to see what God has in store for me in the future.”
If prior performances are any indication, that future certainly appears bright for Alcalá Park’s supremely-motivated man on a mission, both in 2016 and beyond.
As this latest gridiron great prepares to make his last elusive runs down the sidelines of Torero Stadium, hometown fans are not going to want to miss it.
Written by Noah Hilton, Staff Writer