From linebackers to tight ends, new Iowa football assistant coach Abdul Hodge embraces new challenge
Abdul Hodge's football story is intertwined with the linebacker position.
It's where he starred on memorable Iowa football teams in the early 2000's. It's the position he played in the NFL and the position he's coached for the last three seasons at South Dakota.
Now, Hodge a two-time, first-team all-Big Ten Conference pick (2003-04) and former team captain is back at Iowa as an assistant coach. But not coaching the position where he made his name.
No, Hodge is coaching tight ends and on offense for the first time.
From the outside looking in, a lifelong defender coaching an offensive position with the pedigree it holds within Iowa's program is a head-scratcher. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said Hodge "won the interview" with his willingness to take on a new challenge.
On Wednesday, Hodge met with reporters for the first time since his hiring and gave his perspective of what he shared during the interview process.
"Just being enthused about the role and I'm a learner," Hodge said. "But more importantly, just understanding the role that this position is, there's been a lot of coaches that've been in this position from Eric Johnson, (current special teams coach) LeVar Woods and (current offensive coordinator) Brian Ferentz who've done a tremendous job and I know the tight ends who've come through this place and I don't take that for granted.
"I think (Kirk Ferentz) felt like I'd come in, put my head down and work which is what I'm trying to do."
Hodge made building a relationship with the tight ends his top priority when he arrived in Iowa City. He said on Wednesday that on his first day, senior Sam LaPorta and sophomore Luke Lachey visited him at his office.
Four practices into spring practice, Hodge likes what he sees from those two as Iowa's top two tight end options. He likes Lachey's frame (6-foot-6 and 248 pounds) and expects him to be a weapon both in the pass game and as a run blocker.
LaPorta could've declared for the NFL Draft this year but decided to return. Still, Hodge says he's pushing LaPorta to continue improving in multiple ways.
"The transition I think (LaPorta) is going to take now is being a greater leader for our team," Hodge said. "What I've seen from Sam is he's having his head down and working. He's conscious of those little details."
Hodge benefits from inheriting talent and experience at the position in his first year. His goal is to marry that with the insight that he can provide as a defender by nature. Tight ends are almost always matchup against linebackers in pass protection, run blocking and pass catching. Hodge doesn't have direct experience coaching offense but credits his time at South Dakota in teaching him about the position because his players defended them frequently.
"You kind of understand from a linebacker's perspective what that group is trying to get accomplished," Hodge said. "On the tight end side coaching offense, now you know how that (linebacker) is going to play you. There's a lot of things that go back and forth and crossover but the great thing is that I've been on (defense) so I can bring some of that experience over. Here's Cover Two, Cover Three, here's what it means when he lines up at this position so they can kind of play ahead in terms of that."
There's a chance that Hodge could also help boost Iowa's recruiting territory. He's a Fort Lauderdale, Florida native and while it's not finalized it's likely that he'll be assigned the South Florida region. The St. Louis, Missouri area is also in play. The Hawkeyes pulled three-star running back Jaziun Patterson from the Miami area in their 2022 class, they'd benefit greatly by continuing to build a pipeline.
Recruiting will come but Hodge said he plans to connect with recruits the same way he plans to continue to build relationships with the players and adding to the staff: by sharing his story.
Last week Ferentz described Hodge as a "strong, dominant personality" and a "solid, standup productive guy." Those traits ultimately won Hodge the job in the interview process and he hopes to apply those traits to the job.
"At the end of the day, I'm just trying to be myself," Hodge said. "Signing here in 2001 and seeing the program throughout the years you kind of have a core sense of what it takes to be successful here. I've not only been a student-athlete in those guys shoes but coming back as a coach — you can tell that story.
"That's not only going to help our guys but it's also going to help in recruiting. I can sit across from a parent and say, 'I made the decision to go to the University of Iowa and here's why.' Now I'm back 20 years later as a coach. I think that's a strong story and I'm willing to share."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.