John Denton's Knights Insider: Hodges Would Love to Have More Time at UCF

Dec. 17, 2009

By John Denton

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What would this dreamy, storybook run for UCF quarterback Brett Hodges be without some sort of mirage-like image off in the distance?

As the Knights were practicing this week and wrapping up final preparations for Saturday's St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef O'Brady's against Rutgers, they could see off in the distance the domed roof of Tropicana Field glimmering in the Florida sun.

For Hodges, the local boy who grew up rooting for UCF in games just like this but took a circuitous route to get here, he almost had to pinch himself so that he would realize this moment is very much real.

The senior quarterback who was, in many ways a savior this season for the UCF offense, will play his final college game Saturday night at Tropicana Field. The converted baseball field represents the end of what has been a long, strange trip for Hodges - but one he feels so blessed to have travelled along on.

``I've started thinking about that more so recently than I did as the season was going along,'' Hodges admitted. ``This is my last time to play college football. The opportunity that coach (George) O'Leary gave me was great. Everything has worked out well and I've had a lot of fun. Hopefully, I've done my little part to help UCF out and we can finish it out right with a win.''

Hodges certainly did more than a little part, rescuing a UCF offense that might have had a repeat of 2008's misery without his calm, efficient play in the pocket as UCF's starting quarterback. And his story just adds to the legend.

Hodges grew up in nearby Winter Springs, and his parents, Karl and Carla, met while students at UCF. (Carl was a standout pitcher for the baseball team). And much of Hodges' childhood memories revolve around attending UCF football games and throwing a football around outside of the Citrus Bowl while wearing a Daunte Culpepper jersey.

An attempt at playing both football and basketball led him to Wake Forest, but UCF was never far from his heart. Stuck behind quarterback Riley Skinner at Wake, Hodges transferred back to UCF to pursue post-graduate studies and he took advantage of a NCAA rule that immediately made him eligible to play football.

And this season was all he could have ever hoped for and more. He came in in relief in the first two games of the season and then took over the job in Week 3 of the season and never relinquished it. He led the Knights to an 8-4 record and wins in their last six Conference USA games by passing for 2,263 yards and 15 touchdowns.

And because he seemingly got better and better as the season progressed, Hodges said there is a tinge of regret now that he doesn't have more time to play in UCF's offense. He threw a touchdown in his final eight starts, completed 61 percent of his passes in the final four games and was sacked just twice in the final two games of the season.

He's a big believer in momentum, and he truly thinks the Knights can carry over their late-season surge to Saturday night against a rugged Rutgers team.

``Honestly, I could have done some things better because I set really high expectations for myself,'' Hodges said. ``Early on in the season, there are some things I wish I could take back. But being with the team and getting a feel for the offense and building that chemistry has been really nice. It's kind of upsetting that we can't have this same thing again next year.''

Hodges was at his best in some of UCF's biggest games, instantly earning him the respect of his new UCF teammates. He threw for a career-best 342 yards in the 21-20 defeat of Marshall and found wide receiver Rocky Ross for the winning touchdown with 20 seconds to play. Against 12th ranked Houston, he hit on 84 percent of his passes, had a streak of 14-straight completions and found freshman wideout Quincy McDuffie for the game-sealing touchdown.

And in season-closing victories against Tulane and UAB, Hodges threw four touchdown passes to ensure UCF a trip to its third bowl game in five years.

What some on the team admired most about him, though, was his toughness. He routinely bounced back up from big hits, waving off coaches who were ready to pull him from the game. That, linebacker Cory Hogue said, proved infectious for the rest of the team.

``He's a guy who would stand in the pocket and didn't mind getting hit,'' Hogue marveled. ``Even when he hurt his elbow, he didn't want to come out of the game. A lot of us have kind of fed off his energy.''

But soon, Hodges' successful run as UCF's quarterback will come to an end. The emotions of preparing for a big game - one that will ultimately be his last game - have weighed heavily on his this week. But he's tried to keep them at bay, knowing nothing would make his storybook season more perfect than the perfect ending at Tropicana Field.

``When the clock is at zero-zero-zero, that's when I'll feel that emotion, but I'll be focused for the entirety of the game,'' he predicted. ``Once it's over, no matter the outcome, I'll take it from there with my emotions.

``Driving by the dome the other day, it hit me that the time is ticking down,'' he continued. ``We've just got to focus, continue to improve these next couple of days and get the job done on Saturday.''


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.