Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze approached Lodge about a possible redshirt in his freshman season, citing the depth of the Rebel wide receivers, as well as the development advantages of a year in the strength and conditioning program. A season to sit and learn, all the while adding much-needed bulk to his then-thin frame, would be far more beneficial than back-end rotational appearances and mop-up duty on Saturdays.
But Lodge, a former five-star prospect and rated the second-best wide receiver in the country in his recruiting class by Scout.com., wanted to play.
“I don’t think it was a right or wrong decision because I still went in on Fridays and did the workout all the redshirts did,” he said. “I think it was a learning experience for me. I went out and got a feel for the stadiums that I have to play in in the near future. It’s a learning experience. I don’t think it’s a right or wrong decision.”
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Lodge ended up a bit lost in the numbers. The Ole Miss passing game leaned on its veterans in Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core, as well as Damore’ea Stringfellow, Quincy Adeboyejo, Markell Pack and tight end Evan Engram.
Lodge played in eight games as a little-used reserve wide receiver and on special teams. He made his only catch in the team’s season-opening win over UT-Martin, a 12-yard touchdown. He never saw the football, or the end zone, again. He finished 18th on the team in receiving yards, one spot behind reserve Trey Bledsoe, and three off the pace of now-departed defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
“When I first came in I didn’t take it seriously and didn’t know all the plays,” he said. “I was out there lost. Coming in highly recruited and having to step down a little bit took a toll on me. But I took the offseason and got in the playbook very hard and worked out. I took a couple learning tips from Laquon and I’m ready now.”
Treadwell left following a junior season that saw the first-ever Ole Miss Biletnikoff Award finalist top all SEC players with 1,153 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches. He was second in the conference with 82 catches, and he established single-season school records for receptions, receptions per game, receiving yards, receiving yards per game, touchdown catches and 100-yard receiving games.
He was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the NFL Draft in April .
Lodge said he learned hard work from Treadwell, that catching a few extra passes a day on his own wasn’t enough. That hours spent in the film room are equally as important as those on the practice field.
He catches 100 balls a day now, and he said recently held a five-hour film session with Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly studying Florida State. The Rebels take on the Seminoles Sept. 5 in Orlando, Fla., to kick off the 2016 season.
“You have to learn coverages and defenses,” Lodge said. “You have to learn what the defender is going to do and how he plays. It’s just a lot. It’s just staying consistent and learning more coverages and plays. It’s getting a feel for the game.
“This time last year (the new mindset) really set in. The end of fall camp when (Freeze) gave me the option to redshirt or not, I knew I had to mentally get myself ready. I had to grow up and mature. He’s not going to put me out there on the field if he can’t trust me. I knew the only way I’d be able to go out there and make plays is if I matured and got right mentally.”
Freeze saw a change in Lodge in the spring, and Lodge has carried over his new approach in fall camp. Ole Miss is two weeks into August practices. Lodge is currently running with the first-team offense.
“Really pleased,” Freeze said of Lodge. “I think he’s maturing nicely as a teammate and as a person. I’ve been really pleased with his performance.
“He and I had several individual meetings. One of our goals this year is to be a team that is very connected. We’ve done a few exercises that I think have been fun and good throughout camp. I kind of started them last spring with him and kind of tested it on him in some one-on-one meetings with me. I think it’s really let some walls come down and let him be transparent with where he is.”
On the loss of Markell Pack to injury:
“We have a lot of guys who can rotate in and out, so we just switch guys at spots. Quincy (Adeboyejo) still plays outside, but he has been working slot a little more. Him being out is kind of devastating, but we have a lot of guys who can step in and take over.”
On the freshmen wide receivers:
“They all look well developed and don’t look like high school receivers at all. They look pretty good but have a lot to learn and pick up to the pace of the game.”
On the offense in camp compared to last year:
“We are a different team and we have different players. We have a lot of different type of receivers who can do different things. We are just progressing and figuring out what we’re good at and utilizing everyone.”
“That comes from all the hard work that comes from the summer. We put in more hours than ever before with coach Jackson. He said a lot of extra work going on. That contributes to how good we’re connecting.”
On freshman QB Shea Patterson:
“He’s going to be pretty good, has a quick release, man. It’s always a spiral, no matter where the ball is. He looks pretty good and I’m excited to catch balls from him in the future.”
On different mindset opening with FSU:
“I don’t think so. We approach every game the same. We have to bring it every game week in and week out whether we are playing an SEC school or non-SEC school, big game or little game. We have to bring it every week to be best team we can be.”
On what separates him from his fellow Ole Miss WRs:
“We are all different in our own way. I take the ball at its highest point. I’m a student of the game. We are all different.: