Prep football: Huff Award could call on Pioneer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This football season Wayne continues its pursuit for a "three-peat" while junior linebacker Mason Hodge could potentially add to the program's growing trophy case with an individual accolade.
Hodge, a 2012 Class AA first team All-State selection, also contributes offensively as the Pioneers' leading rusher, though it's his defensive skills that have made him a leading candidate for this year's Huff Award, given annually to the state's top defender. As Wayne has established itself as a perennial power, no Pioneers player has won a major individual award since David Morris won the Kennedy Award in 1968.
"It would be a great honor," Hodge said of potentially being named the Huff Award winner.
Still, Hodge said he's more focused on helping Wayne (7-0) reach, then win, the state championship rather than worrying about his odds capturing any individual awards.
"It would be a great accomplishment from a personal standpoint, but I'm just worried about getting there, getting to the playoffs and playing ball from there," he said. "I don't really think about it really. If I get it, I get it. If not, I'm just hoping we have a good season."
At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Hodge plays a large role in leading the team toward the title game.
"The physicality he brings to games sets the tone for the entire team," Wayne Coach Tom Harmon said. "Mason plays behind his pads very well and understands leverage."
As a freshman, Hodge earned second team All-State status, before reaching the first team as a sophomore. Both times Hodge helped to lead the Pioneers to state titles. Currently, the program holds a 30-game winning streak in search of its third consecutive state championship.
"It's a complete different team from last year," Hodge said. "Last year, we were a little bit bigger up front, had some experience. This year, we've got a lot smaller guys, quicker, but they still play smart, focusing on what they have to get done."
The Wayne defense has continued its dominance, though, with different personnel allowing an average of fewer than 11 points per game.
With Hodge a junior now at the helm defensively, he's assumed greater responsibilities, though he said his teammates play equally large roles.
"It's not really a leadership thing, but I got their back, they got my back," he said. "I do try to step up on the field and be a leader, but at times there's other guys on the field who do the same thing. It's a team effort really."
Beyond Hodge's physical skills, Harmon said the Pioneer standout displays great knowledge of the game and leadership skills.
"The best asset he has is his ability to make the players around him better," he said. "He understands the schemes as good as anyone. Understanding what everyone is supposed to do every play is like having a coach out there. All the while, Mason doesn't care who gets the credit."
Hodge said he feels his best football traits include "just having a nose for the football, just of instinct for the game."
Playing both offense and defense has provided Hodge opportunities to learn greater lessons about each of his positions, he said.
"I think it's helped me in my mental game really just having to know both sides of the ball, getting a good IQ of the game," he said. "I know just about every position on the field. Anywhere you put me, I could probably play. It's just knowing the game, knowing what your teammates need to do and that's the whole point of being a leader, leading a team."
Harmon said he agreed with Hodge's assessment that Hodge could play many different positions with equal success.
"It's uncommon to have a player of Mason's size with his athleticism," he said. "He can do all the things needed for many different positions."
Hodge said he's aware he hasn't reached his full potential just yet, though, whether it's helping the team offensively or defensively.
"There's always room for improvement as I play linebacker and running back," he said. "There's room for improvement on both sides, whether it's picking up my knees going through a hole or getting my hot step, my read faster and filling in, block down or something like that."
Consistently taking the opposition's best effort, as each week teams take turns attempting to knock off Wayne, goes a long way, too, to improving.
"Everybody plays us just a little bit harder than they play everybody else, I guess," Hodge said. "It's kind of fun when you beat them."
Hodge may appear to be among discussed frontrunners for the Huff Award, but team wins occupy his mind more than any individual honor.
"We have good potential to be another one, trying to get a three-peat," he said.
Doing so won't be any easy task, though.
"Like I said, it's a completely different year from last year," Hodge said. "We've got a lot of hype to live up to, this team, this year, we do. Coming off 14-0, it's kind of tough to come back and do it again."