Hodge comfortable with redshirt

Linebacker eager to improve his play, work through nagging injury

Elijah Hodge came to the University of Wisconsin this summer with hopes of playing as a true freshman. The middle linebacker from Lauderhill, Fla., however, will redshirt this season, he confirmed Wednesday, and he is looking forward to using this year to improve.

That Hodge would redshirt seemed apparent when he did not play in UW's 65-0 blowout win over Temple Saturday. Six other mike linebackers got into that game.

As recently as last week, Hodge was receiving practice repetitions with the first- and second-team defense. He was an impressive player in fall camp, providing a physical presence while looking comfortable reacting to the action around him for a first-year player. Hodge, though, said he needs to get better in this regard.

Perhaps more importantly, he needs to build strength in his legs and improve his flexibility in an effort to solve a groin injury that has troubled him since his freshman year of high school.

"I appreciate it," Hodge said of redshirting. "I'm going to take this year and get better. I don't feel I'm where I need to be right now, as far as like running the plays and stuff like that."

"It's not that I don't know the plays," Hodge explained. "It's basically like I'm hesitating. Basically this year I just want to work on not hesitating and just going. That's when I make my best plays when I'm just playing, not worrying about what I have to do because I'm knowing it."

Hodge was prepared to come to Madison, give his best effort and see where he fit in this season.

"I actually wanted to come in and play," he said. "But it didn't work out that way. So, I'm going to take it as it comes."

Hodge missed time during fall camp as a result of the groin injury, which he said originally occurred during his freshman year of high school.

"My groin's hurting because all the muscles around it was like kind of weak," Hodge said. "… So coming in during the summer, now I'm just basically working on strengthening all the muscles around my groin. So, it's getting better now."

After every practice, Hodge spends about 15 minutes with UW's strength and conditioning staff, working on a stretching regimen to improve the flexibility in his legs and hips.

"I was kind of stiff when I came in," Hodge said. "Now you can see I'm actually moving better."

The first few weeks of practice, Hodge's upper leg was wrapped in an ace bandage to help him with the discomfort. Recently, however, he has been able to ditch that crutch. He said he is no longer feeling pain from the injury when he runs.

"I'm going full speed," he said.

As a senior at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Hodge was ranked the No. 16 linebacker in the nation by Scout.com. He quickly settled into playing the mike position at UW, but there he must contend with a fairly crowded depth chart. Last season's starter on the strongside, junior Mark Zalewski, is now thriving in the middle. Redshirt freshman Josh Neal and sophomore Andy Crooks, who started five games last year, are backing up Zalewski. Since the decision was made to redshirt him, Hodge has been working with the scout team.

"There (are) a lot of mike linebackers and all of them are pretty good," Hodge said. "They are good linebackers, especially Zalewski, and we've got Crooks and Neal. And I'm just going to learn from them, just try my best and give it my all."

Hodge may not have the opportunity to play this year, but he will have four seasons left as a Badger.

"That's a plus," he said. "Definitely that's a plus."

With the aid of an extra year, Hodge should have a significant edge in maturity in seasons to come. He turns 20 in December.

As for this year, Hodge will miss a chance to step on a college football field with his brother, Iowa senior linebacker Abdul Hodge, when the Hawkeyes come to visit Madison Nov. 12.

Elijah Hodge, though, is still looking forward to that game.

"It will still be a great pleasure just being on the same field as him," Elijah said. "Even if I'm not playing, just watching will be a great pleasure."

Is that date circled on Elijah's calendar?

"No. It's underlined though," he said. "It's not circled, but it's underlined."

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