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2017 Best Football Players in the MAC: #11 Khalil Hodge, LB, Buffalo

We sit down with one of the best linebackers in the MAC to discuss how he and the Bulls will approach a pivotal 2017 campaign.

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

One of the best kept secrets in the NCAA, Khalil Hodge, a 6’1” 235 pound junior linebacker from Stockton, California, proved last season that he should not be left in the dark.

Khalil Hodge racked up 123 tackles and 2.0 sacks in his 2017 campaign for the Buffalo Bulls. Hodge had double-digit tackles in six games last season, with his season-high coming against Nevada with an astounding 17 tackles.

I talked with Khalil Hodge on the phone last week before one of his camp days. Hodge discussed what the Buffalo defense is looking like this season, how his offseason went and what his goals are for the year. An exceptional young man who just wants to learn as much as he can, he’s certainly eager to have the opportunity to play Division I football and has taken full advantage of it.

“Coach Leipold got me out there early,” Hodge said about being given big responsibilities upon his arrival from City College of San Francisco. “I came into spring football and was already learning to be a play caller on the defense. The learning curve was tough, but I wanted to be that player for Buffalo.”

Hodge certainly became that impact player, surprising many pundits as he mustered up 123 tackles his first year out of the JUCO ranks.

There is a reason why in his senior year of high school Hodge logged 262 tackles. Simply out, he gets to the ball carrier. His speed and elusiveness allow him to get to the ball carrier before anyone else. Hodge took the offseason to take his speed to the “fourth gear”: “I’ve been working very hard this offseason. I am down to 235 pounds and feel lighter and faster. I’m at a different speed now, and I am excited to put it to test on the field.”

Hodge wants success for himself, but more importantly wants success for the team. The Bulls had the worst run defense in the MAC last season, but Hodge believes they will be able to change that this year.

“Our defense has eight returning starters this year, which is huge,” Hodge said. “More importantly, we just have to take pride in every single thing we do. Our more experienced guys know how disappointed it was having a bad run defense, and we don't want that to happen again.”

Hodge has not only been encouraging the seniors, but has also been helping the new recruits with the transition.

I asked Hodge if he was happy with his ranking in the MAC. He said he was honoured, but wants to be recognized as the best.

“I’m very grateful to even be considered in the top 11. But, at the end of the day I think I can be the best defensive player in the MAC this year,” Hodge said. “My goal is to try and prove that”.

Hodge is poised for a big year. His outstanding play from the 2016 campaign and the confidence gained from starting reps places him right into the running as a MAC Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Hodge has some hefty goals for the 2017 season, but he believes if he works hard enough he can achieve them.

“I want to perform for Buffalo,” Hodge said. “I want to prove that you don’t need to go to a big school to be a big time player. Personally, I would love to break the single season tackling record for Buffalo and the MAC. Go from All-MAC Second Team to First Team. I just want to continue to improve and be great.”

Khalil Hodge will be a name you will not want to forget after this season.