It has been a difficult offseason in the shadow of Mount Nittany. Rock bottom was reached on July 23 with the issuance of NCAA sanctions that included a four-year bowl ban, scholarship reductions, the removal of 112 wins over a 14-year period, and a $60 million fine, all in response to the university's disastrous handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
The NCAA allowed Penn State players to transfer without having to sit out a season. Hodges, a preseason all-American candidate, received plenty of calls, e-mails, and Facebook contacts from schools hoping to lure him.
He doesn't know how many tried to contact him or his high school coaches, but he "just kind of ignored them . . . [transferring] never even crossed my mind."
Now, by remaining with Bill O'Brien's first Penn State team, Hodges is part of solid senior leadership that hopes to carry the Nittany Lions forward.
"When you have a senior, and a senior leader at that, and he just leaves, then what does that tell the other guys?" he said. "They're thinking, 'If he can leave, why can't we just get up and go?' So it just shows you character as a senior, not just me but guys like [Michael] Mauti and Pete [Massaro] and other guys that just stuck it out.
"No matter what happens, we're going to stay, regardless. That just shows our character and the respect that we have for the school and for each other."
The 6-foot-2, 237-pound Hodges, who led Penn State in tackles last season, has been moved from weakside to strong-side linebacker. The senior starts 2012 as one of the nation's best at his position, and is rated the No. 1 linebacker in the Big Ten by ESPN.com. He is on four watch lists for national awards, including the Bednarik Award for the nation's top defensive player given by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia.
As for his personal expectations, Hodges simply said it's a matter of doing whatever it takes to help the team win. He is trying to ignore the hype as best he can.
"I don't want to say I read it, but it's hard not to hear about it when other people tell you," he said. "I hear it, but at the same time you've still got to go out there and play. All those preseason predictions don't mean anything if you don't go out there and play. I don't feel any pressure."
O'Brien said Hodges "is practicing really well right now. He's making a lot of plays. We're really seeing some great things from him."
Hodges likes playing for O'Brien, calling him "a great guy . . . fun to be around.
"We joke around; we're not used to being able to joke around with our coaches," Hodges said. "We give him the utmost respect, every last guy, and he gives us all respect and treats us like adults. He's a player's coach, and we're not used to that."
Like all his teammates and coaches, Hodges is excited to be playing football again and can't wait for the Sept. 1 season opener. He feels as if he is on a unit with a "nasty" bunch that has something to prove.
"I love our guys," he said. "They're just nasty. I like them. I know when they step on the field, I've got some warriors to battle with me. With all the things that did happen, that didn't do anything but make the guys nastier. So those guys are really itching to get on the field.
"We're itching to get on the field and show people what we're able to do, show people that you can knock us down but we're going to keep getting up."
Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.