The Syracuse linebacking group was set entering the 2013 season. Returning veterans Cameron Lynch, Dyshawn Davis and Marquis Spruill were poised for a big year. But even with those experienced and talented players could not keep a true freshman off the field.
Marqez Hodge, a three-star prospect out of Miami Central in Florida, was not one of the more hyped members of Syracuse’s 2013 class. But from the moment he arrived on campus, his ability was clear.
After committing to the Orange, Scout’s John Garcia Jr. had this to say about the talented linebacker.
”Hodge's quickness allows him to get to the final phase of good linebacker play, the finish,” Garcia Jr said. “He's as sure a tackler as you'll see at this level, and he can bring the lumber at times in the process.
"Hodge doesn't rely simply on his explosiveness to make the play, he brings technique – including that initial knee-bend - more times than not and secures stops with leverage and by wrapping-up.”
Hodge showed off those skills at training and forced the Syracuse coaches to put him on the field. He earned a spot in the linebacker rotation and played well, even if it was not as his most natural position.
"He flashed last year at Fort Drum," linebackers coach Clark Lea said. "I had no expectations for him. I thought our two-deep was kind of set and we were rolling. It was good. Then he goes out there in the scrimmage just mopping up and, to be honest, you could just hear it.
"You could hear him on the field. The pads, the tackling and the physical presence he brought. Then when you watched the tape, you saw him doing things no one else did. That was the point when he flashed. Then it was a full-court press to try to get him ready."
Fast forward to the spring of 2014, and the middle linebacker spot was up for grabs with Spruill departing for the NFL.
With an injured Luke Arciniega out for the spring, Hodge took the bull by the horns. With a solid spring session, spring game and summer offseason, Hodge has become the man in the middle for an experienced and talented Orange back seven.
Now back at the position best suited for his abilities, Hodge is poised for a breakout season. His ability to pick up the defensive scheme was impressive for a true freshman. Entering this season, Hodge is a seasoned veteran when it comes to knowledge Chuck Bullough’s system.
Combine a young, hungry player with speed, physicality and a high motor with talented experience around him and you have the recipe for a breakout season. Hodge has displayed those same skills that made him a three-star prospect in high school at the college level.
"He's doing great," coach Lea said. "He's doing well. He still has a ways to go. He's performing at a level that I think suits the position in this league. He has big shoes to fill. I'm not sure he'll fill the position exactly like Marquis (Spruill) because everybody's different. But he can be the best version of himself.
"I just need for him to pick up his on-field dimeanor and just some of the little details. He's a great physical player. He does some things with his pads that I've never seen anybody do. With someone of his stature and the way that he strikes is uncanny."
Participating in a strength and conditioning program has only helped enhance those skills. Hodge is still developing as a college linebacker. This could be the season when he jumps onto the radar as a budding star for the Orange.
"He'll go against guys that outweigh him by 100-pounds and have five or six inches taller than he is," coach Lea said. "There should be no way he has a chance to win. He just has an inate ability to get his near foot in the ground. Something we teach that he does naturally.
"He delivers a blow that buckles them. He's pretty impressive. We have to keep him with that strike and develop his game around it so that he becomes a more complete player for us."