There maybe some rumblings and concerns among the Cougar fan base concerning the loss of both Tafuna and Gabriel to the defensive backfield, but for Corby Hodgkiss, the naysayers don’t affect him. And why should they?
According to doctors, Hodgkiss was never even supposed to play football again after nearly slipping into a diabetic coma that forced him home early from his mission, but he is. So overcoming the “you can’t do it” mantra from skeptics is nothing new to the Texas native. In fact, stepping in as the starting safety is easy in comparison to what this BYU football player has been through in the past.
“I’m really excited about this and it’s a great opportunity for me,” said a smiling Hodgkiss. “David Tafuna is a great man, great player, good friend of mine and I’m really sorry for him, but I am very excited about the season and it has been a long road for me. I’ll tell you what; I’ve been in this situation before where I’ve been on the brink of starting, backing up and fighting for that position. I’ve played in games and played earlier in my career but have taken a back seat the past couple of years. So it’s been a frustrating situation for me, but I love to compete.”
While Hodgkiss has taken a backseat role, he’s placed a lot of his practical understanding of the game and efforts into helping his teammates succeed around him. Now his efforts have paid off with a chance to be a part of this team’s success or failure.
“I’ve tried to learn and perform well to try to help the guys around me from my experience,” said Hodgkiss. “I’ve tried to help the guys around me become better and I think it’s paid off for me. Now it’s one of those things where I’m grateful and my family is grateful for me being able to be more a part of the team’s success. Now is the reward for the effort.
”I’ve put in the effort and I’ve stayed every summer and worked hard and I’ve worked on my weaknesses to better perform,” said Hodgkiss. “Now I have the opportunity to put into practice what I’ve been working hard on over the years. I’m just excited for the opportunity. I don’t doubt myself at all.”
Out on the practice field, Hodgkiss has shown that he has both the confidence and the ability to help his teammates around him being a veteran of the defense. In a previous interview with Totalbluesports, Coach Hill recently mentioned that they look for intelligent players to man the secondary position, and during today’s practice scrimmage Hodgkiss was able to put to use his knowledge of the defense to help out a linebackers that is heavy-laden with linebackers.
“I’m very confident in what I can do,” said Hodgkiss. “It’s a loss to lose depth but this isn’t something that is new to me, and I’ve come in and played when I was a freshman. Now I’m a senior and know how to play the game very well. I think I bring a knowledge of the defense and another brain to the secondary. You know, Quinn [Gooch] is barking instructions from his side and I think that’s also what I bring to defense. I’m able to read things and get people into their positions.”
While being a student of the game has helped Hodgkiss with his abilities to manipulate the strengths of the defensive scheme to better match his abilities, he also gained some valuable insight while playing the role of supporter to his starting teammates.
“Through my experiences and sitting in the back watching Dustin [Gabriel] play last year, I’ve grown,” said Hodgkiss. “I’ve gained a greater knowledge of the defense which has helped me to become more confident. I know exactly what we need to do when we need to do it. Watching them play you gain a better understanding of what offensive coordinators are trying to do. It has also helped me to understand what wide receivers are thinking and what he wants to do by how they line in certain areas.
“In our defense, I know where our weakness are and so I know how to better manipulate our defensive schemes to get greater use out of it. None of us are perfect, but I’ve been able to learn through their mistakes and accomplishments how to better manipulate those things on our defense which will only improve my game.”
Coach Hill has stressed to his players that if you are not in the game, you need to be studying what is occurring on the field to further strengthen your game. One constant instruction Coach Hill gives to his players is to “take mental reps” as if you are actually out on the field when you really aren’t.
”Watching Dustin [Gabriel] and David [Tafuna] play has strengthened my mental game,” said Hodgkiss. “I’ve been back here taking mental reps every time and out on the field I feel really fast on the field because my mind is making the decision faster than the next guy on the field.”
Coach Hill also stresses that it’s not exactly the physical caliber of the player that allows for success, but rather the defensive system and how one plays within the system that garners success.
“Coach Hill’s theory is, it’s not the players but the system,” said Hodgkiss. “If you know where you’re supposed to be mentally, you’re going to put yourself into a position to be there. The system will put you in the area of where you need to be, so it becomes an issue of if the next guy has the knowledge and knows where he is supposed to be it doesn’t really matter who it is because the system will allow him to put his knowledge to use. This is why Coach Hill expects that there should be no drop off between the performances of the first and second team units. It really just becomes a depth issue.”
In the 2006 BYU media guide, Coach Mendenhall mentioned that the continued success of individuals is a result of the quality of the program found at BYU. Coach Hill also echoed this same philosophy as well to the defensive backfield.
”Coach Hill’s theory is that a second string player should come in and play just as well as a first string player,” Hodgkiss said. “The second string player should almost perform better than the first at times because he’s sat back and watched the game. Coach Hill said, ‘If you’ve been sitting out and watching the game with me you should be able to go in and do a better job because you’ve been watching and seeing how things develop from the outside.’ He said, ‘I don’t expect there to be a drop off in performance. Between my one’s and my two’s there shouldn’t be a drop off in performance.’”
Hodgkiss wants to put to rest any doubts he’s heard of him taking over the starting safety position.
“There’s been a lot of doubts about me and I’ve already been out here one day and I’ve heard it,” Hodgkiss said. “I’ve already heard people doubt about me on whether or not I will be able handle it, but I’m not worried about what people think. I’m going to perform to the best of my abilities given what I know and can do, and I’m going to work hard every single day to continue to improve. That’s really all that matters and we’re going to be good and the system is going to be good. We’re going to be ready for Arizona.”