BY PARRISH ALFORD
OXFORD – Ask three different Ole Miss coaches about Shay Hodge, and you'll get three different responses.
The common denominator to all of them is this – impact.
Offensive coordinator Dan Werner: “He looks to me like a big-time receiver making big plays.”
Receivers coach Hugh Freeze: “He is our most complete receiver.”
Perhaps the most important assessment comes from head coach Ed Orgeron: “Shay is our go-to receiver.”
Orgeron has never communicated Hodge's role to him so clearly.
Hodge, a sophomore from Morton, is a reserve and part of what is currently a four-player rotation. He isn't on the field for the start at first down, but he knows when he's going in.
“On third down I know I'm going in, no matter what. I wish I was a starter, but I'll take my role as it goes right now.”
Back in July, there were questions whether Hodge would have a role at all.
He fractured a bone in his right foot while landing on a teammate in a passing drill in July.
Doctors told him he would be available for the season opener Sept. 1. He wasn't quite so sure himself but followed the treatment plan and played – and made an impact – in the Rebels' 23-21 win against Memphis.
Hodge's rehab plan included, among other things, running in the pool and grabbing marbles off the floor with his foot.
“It was hard, real hard, to make it to every rehab,” he said. “You can't miss one, or you set yourself back two days. I got down a lot of times, but the coaches kept me going.”
The foot has responded, and so has Hodge.
He had four catches for 37 yards at Memphis and was most impressive with three tough grabs on slant routes when the Rebels drove the ball and ate up clock in the fourth quarter.
He had five catches for 47 yards, including the first touchdown catch of his career, a 5-yarder from Seth Adams, last week against Missouri.
Hodge dedicated the touchdown to his daughter, Shavareia, who died in April at age 2 after a lengthy illness.
“All of our guys have gifts,” Freeze said. “It's my job to put them in the right places when we're running crossing routes and looking for yards after the catch. Shay can do all that. He can run, he can be the physical guy on the slants in press coverage, and he can be the guy that goes vertical.”
It was going vertical, the landing of it, that caused late-summer grief for Hodge.
But it's also that summer work with the starting quarterback that has helped in another important area.
“We've got great timing together. We're on the same page,” Adams said.
Despite the rigors of rehab, Hodge turned the injury into a positive.
“I think it matured me a lot, just watching them in practice, seeing the things they could do better and the things I could do better,” he said.
Hodge has a permanent screw in the foot, his summertime souvenir.
He also carries memories and want so erase them as quickly as possible and carry on with what has been a promising start.
“It's in my head every day, every time I jump up for a pass,” he said. “I think about the defender and how I have to land to miss his feet. I need to hurry up and get that out of my head.”