Hodges, Photo by Zachary Currier
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — His evening routine last autumn began on the fifth floor of Harvard’s law school library, usually around 7 p.m. Tucked away in a corner cubicle, the football player would sit in the silence and read authors ranging from Sun Tzu to Mao Zedong. With every word he devoured, the engine of his mind fired and whined and roared.
Around midnight, Zack Hodges would stuff his books into his backpack, put on his headphones—Bach and Gershwin were his preferred tunes—and stride into the Cambridge night. The defensive end would walk 20 minutes across campus to Harvard Stadium. There Hodges would slip through an iron-wrought gate, pull out a key to unlock a door to one of the coach’s rooms and then flip a switch to turn on the stadium’s towering lights.
For over an hour, alone in the amber glow, he would run the stadium steps, up and down, up and down, the only sound the footfalls of his shoes slapping the ancient concrete structure. These late-night workouts were a sort of therapy to Hodges, because as his legs churned and burned, he would allow his thoughts to drift back in time, back to his past, back to the source of his energy.
As he ran, the images would unspool on the grainy film of his memory: the horrifying morning his mother collapsed, the desperate nights of being homeless, the trying days of being an outcast in junior high because he couldn’t shower for weeks.
Sweat would pour down his forehead as he kept chugging under the stadium lights, a solitary figure in the night, but he wouldn’t stop until he traversed every section of the grandstands. Always, his mother taught him, finish what you start. He normally would not step off his final step until 1 a.m. Exhausted, he would retire to his nearby dorm room for a few hours of rest.
This was how the 23-year-old Hodges—one of the most intriguing prospects in the upcoming NFL draft, whose tear-dripping and awe-inspiring biography is a movie waiting to be made—spent so many evenings and early mornings last fall.
“I use my past to motivate me, because I know what real pain is and I know what real desperation is,” Hodges said. “I constantly think about my past because it keeps me going, even when I feel like I can’t go any further or push any harder. Then when I get on the field, it’s still with me.
“When I’m playing, I’m there to complete a task, to forcibly install my will on my opponent. … There’s no emotion to it for me. If I break you in half, that’s just part of what comes with the freedom and control I feel when I play the game. And when I do beat you on the field, I want you to remember that I beat you and want everyone to remember that I beat you.”
If Hodges—who at 6’2″ and 250 pounds is projected by scouts to be a midround selection—sounds like a deep thinker, it’s because he is. A government and philosophy…
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