Hodgins catches attention
CORVALLIS — As Isaiah Hodgins continues to prove himself as one of the premier receivers in the country, his ascension up the list in the Oregon State record book goes on as well.
OSU football has had a succession of outstanding receivers in recent history, beginning with Vern Burke (1962-63), an All-American and the prime target for Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker during Burke's junior year.
Two Beaver receivers — Mike Hass in 2005 and Brandin Cooks in 2013 — have been recipients of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's outstanding receiver. Hodgins is among a dozen semifinalists for the 2019 award on a short list of leading candidates that includes Texas' Southern Methodist's James Proche, Southern Cal's Michael Pittman and Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson of Louisiana State. The award will be presented at a Feb. 16 banquet in Tallahassee, Florida.
Heading into Saturday's 6 p.m. matchup with Washington State at Pullman, Hodgins ranks among the nation's leaders in touchdown receptions (13, second), receptions (73, tied for sixth) and receiving yardage (1,021, seventh).
The junior from Oakley, California, is among the Oregon State career leaders in TD receptions (20, tied for second), receptions (163, eighth) and receiving yardage (2,172, eighth). Hodgins and quarterback Jake Luton have hooked up for 18 touchdown passes, making them the second-most prolific combination in school history behind Cooks and Sean Mannion with 23.
"It's crazy to look up at the leaderboards for the single-game, single-season or career records and see my name up on some of them," Hodgins said. "It's an honor to be mentioned with those elite players. I'd like to keep moving up."
The former OSU receiver Hodgins most resembles physically is Burke, the 6-4, 215-pound split end who led the nation with 69 receptions for 1,007 yards in 11 games on the Beavers' 9-2 Liberty Bowl team of 1962. Burke had 117 catches for 1,789 yards and 19 TDs in his two seasons at Oregon State.
"Vern was a big guy who ended up being a tight end in the NFL," said Baker, who was the No. 1 pick by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1963 draft. "He was a complete football player. He had very good hands, he ran good routes and he was savvy. If they put a zone defense on you, he'd go find a hole. Being smart is part of it."
The 6-4 Hodgins came to Oregon State as a freshman in 2017, weighing about 190 pounds.
"I was like barely scratching 200 last year, but right now I'm closer to 210," he said. "It's a testament to Coach Mac (strength and conditioning coach Mike McDonald). His staff has done a great job helping me get bigger, stronger and faster."
Burke suffered a knee injury in the preseason of his rookie year with San Francisco and played only three NFL seasons with the 49ers, Atlanta and New Orleans. In a phone conversation, Burke said he has not watched Hodgins play, though he said he has heard good things about him.
Baker, who has seen Hodgins in action a few times in person and often on television, declined to make a comparison between Burke and Hodgins.
"The eras are so different, and the game has changed so much since I played," said Baker, now 78, retired and living in Portland after a long career as an attorney. "But I'm impressed with Isaiah. He has good size, and he makes tough catches. He's our bread-and-butter guy. (Opponents) are trying like crazy to defend him, and he's done a hell of a job.
"He's a very good one — unfortunately, maybe so good he'll be gone (to the NFL) next year."
College juniors are eligible for the draft, but it's unclear when Hodgins would be taken if he comes out early. NFL scouts like speed — ask Hass about it — and Hodgins isn't a burner. He said he believes his best clocking in the 40 is about 4.55.
"I haven't really talked about that a whole lot yet," Hodgins said. "Coach (Jonathan) Smith and I will sit down and talk after the season. I feel like I need to do more talking about the situation and see how the season ends to see if I'm in a position to where I can (leave school for the NFL)."
Isaiah's father, James, played eight years as a fullback in the NFL. The senior Hodgins will likely counsel his son to return for his senior season at OSU unless scouts indicate he'll be taken high in the draft.
If Isaiah comes back, it would put him in position to pass just about everyone on the school's career receiving lists. He needs five touchdown catches to move ahead of Cooks, who is No. 1 with 24. Hodgins is 64 receptions shy of Markus Wheaton's career mark of 227. It's unlikely Hodgins would challenge Hass' career total of 3,924 receiving yards, but a healthy senior year might get him past James Newson (3,572) and into second place on that list.
Hodgins has seen video of Hass in an OSU uniform.
"He was great," Hodgins said. "He was like a touchdown machine. I haven't met him yet, but I'd like to."
Hodgins has met and had conversations with Cooks a couple of times, and communicated with the Los Angeles Rams receiver through Instagram.
"He's an electric player," Hodgins said of Cooks. "He's so elusive after the catch. He can turn a small play into a big play. He's a fluid route runner who does a great job of getting separation on his route and creating space after the catch."
Hodgins has worked hard on his body, but he also has become a student of the receiving position.
His mantra: "Whatever route you run, run it precisely. Be deceptive. Make the defender think you're going in when you're going out, or out when you're going in, using your head and shoulders. It's about practicing all the little details that go into route-running."
Hodgins said the work he has put in with Luton over the past two years has resulted in the synergy the pair has shown on the field.
"We've put in a countless amount of reps together, watching film together, breaking everything down, making sure our timing is down," Hodgins said. "It helps that we have an off-field relationship. Jake's my guy. He's a fun guy to be around. He's definitely a good dude."
Hodgins, who chose Oregon State over scholarship offers from Oregon, Nebraska, Colorado and Washington, said he has never second-guessed his decision.
"The losing was difficult, but it's been fun to be part of building a new culture and a strong program at Oregon State," he said. "Now we're seeing the results of a lot of hard work. And it's been great playing with my brother (sophomore defensive tackle Isaac Hodgins)."
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