Meet the Prospect: Harvard DE/OLB Zach Hodges

Throughout the season, the “Meet the Prospect” series will highlight an underrated senior NFL prospect with a scouting report, interview and glimpse at what NFL scouts think of the player.

Zach Hodges, Harvard (6-2 | 235 | 4.74 | #99)

The Scouting Report
Zach Hodges, who became a starter for the Crimson as a sophomore in 2012, has had a productive collegiate career so far, collecting 92 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception. He was an FCS All-American last season and earned the 2013 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year honors. Hodges lines up all over the defensive line for Harvard, inside and outside, and also stands up to drop and play on his feet.

Hodges has an excellent first step with instant acceleration and nonstop momentum towards the ball, taking sharp angles with perceptive vision. He plays with low pad level and natural leverage to power through the line of scrimmage while staying balanced through contact despite his lean-limbed frame, lacking ideal bulk.

Hodges tends to be overaggressive and needs to control his energy to consistently break down and not wear himself out. But his motor is much more of a positive than a negative, using his relentless mentality and active playing style to only be blocked for so long. Like most college rushers, he has room to improve his hand use and pass rush repertoire, but Hodges is still in the learning stages of his development and has a long ways to go before hitting his ceiling.

Hodges is currently ranked as the No. 2 senior outside linebacker by and potential top-100 prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft.

What NFL Scouts are saying
“I haven’t seen the Harvard kid yet, but I’ve heard quite a bit. And it’s mostly positive – enough so that I circled him on my sheet in red ink. I look forward to hearing what our scouts think of him this season.” – AFC North Executive

The Interview
Q: Obviously the Ivy League will always be better known for academics rather than football, do you think NFL scouts know about you? Is it sometimes tough to get noticed?
A: I’m not 100% sure how NFL operates on scouting. From my end, I’ve seen a ton of guys above me get the opportunity and take advantage of playing at the next level. If you can play, the NFL will give you an opportunity. There might be a greater opportunity for SEC schools, but those programs can’t give you the options that an Ivy League school can give you. I am thankful for the plethora of opportunities.

Q: You’re a Government major, correct? Are you close to graduating?
A: I’m in the process, very close. I’m doubling majoring in Government and Philosophy.

Q: How is it balancing the demands of both school and football at a school like Harvard?
A: It really sucks, but in the long run it will pay off. You realize you’re not smart as you think you are. Not as talented as you think you are. It teaches you that you really need to work for what you want. Everyone is hard working, down to earth. I appreciate those values here.

Q: Your former teammate at Harvard Kyle Juszczyk (USE-chick) was a fourth rounder in the 2013 NFL Draft, have you talked to him at all about his experience in the NFL and what to expect going through the draft process?
A: I had a class with him, Moral Dilemmas, when he came back to campus to finish up his degree. Kyle seemed to really love the experience. I talked to him a few weeks ago about the process and what was going on. I talked to a lot of older guys and several have reached out to mentor me.

We don’t haze here. The moment you arrive, you’re a part of the team and the older guys are reaching down to pick up the young guys. There are always guys to help give you advice. Juice has sent me tons of emails for advice of handling the pressure that I faced last year and will face this year.

Q: When did you start playing football and how did you end up at Harvard?
A: I started playing football when I was 10, which is late compared to most of my friends. In high school, I wasn’t thinking of playing but a friend talked me into coming to the try out, starting off on the junior varsity. A week before the first game of my sophomore year, the kid who was starting ahead of me got hurt so I got a shot and from then on I had a chance to play.

When I was 16, I made starting captain on the varsity. My mom passed away at 16 also so I moved from Independence (North Carolina) to Tri-cities in Atlanta to help my family. It was a different experience going from a team that was a top program to a program trying to build itself up. When I got to Tri-cities, I didn’t really know what was going to happen, but I ended up being class President. By the end of my junior year, one of the first schools to look at me was Harvard and from that point on, I stuck with Harvard. They stuck with me. Harvard was my last official visit, I wasn’t the best student in the world and they wanted me to go to a boarding school. I had decent grades. I prayed on it. I wanted to make the best decision, and if that was Harvard, do whatever it takes. And if it meant taking an extra year to achieve what was best for my family, then okay. So I went to Phillips Exeter Academy, which exposed me to another life. Provided me with a duality that I'm thankful for.

Q: Is there a player in the NFL that you compare yourself to?
A: There are people, but I don’t want to point to anyone right now. I want to be like water, flow with anything and come with as much force as possible. Fit into anything. I don’t want to fit just one style, I want to be whatever I need to be and do it as powerfully as I can do it.

Q: On the football field, you’re relentless and hungry each snap. Where does that intensity come from?
A: I like to compete, I’m a big competitor. I value competition. I try to do everything I do 100%. I want to win everything, be the best at everything. It may be difficult but I don’t’ see why you can’t be the best at everything, win everything. Just the way I approach life. I want to dominate. I want you to hurt when I beat you. I want your children to know that I beat you. My job is to simply make offenses suffer, make you suffer. I want to destroy you. I want you to hurt. I want you to feel bad that it hurt. I want you to be your best, not mediocre.

Q: You’re listed at 6-3 and 235 pounds, but played inside and outside, even seeing some snaps at the nose. Where do you think your best position is and how do you feel about standing up and potentially playing in space at linebacker?
A: Just put me on the field and tell me what you want me to do. In high school, my favorite position was linebacker and I played mostly there. Of the 45 schools that recruited me, Harvard was one of the only schools that didn’t want me to play linebacker, they wanted me on the line. I just told my coaches that I’ll be ready for wherever they want to play me. When my time is called upon, I’m just trying to give my best.

Q: Watching you on tape, I really liked your first step burst, nonstop momentum towards the ball and balance through contact. But what areas do you think you need to improve the most?
A: Just being able to break down and finish tackles. I had a strained groin which affected my ability a bit last year. So I’ve really been trying to focus on clearly breaking down and finishing plays. Second thing I need to work on, as the season went on last year, I saw more double teams and started getting a lot of chips by running backs. The goal is to be more effective defeating double teams and chips.

Q: You edged Princeton’s Caruan Reid last year for Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year last season. Reid was a 5th round pick, does that make you think you could be drafted higher than that?
A: I don’t know. I just want to finish my senior season. I don’t know anything about the NFL draft. I haven’t reached that point in my career.

Q: Is playing in the NFL a dream of yours?
A: The NFL is an interest. Being able to play at the highest level is definitely an interest. But honestly, with the experiences I’ve had in my life, I know nothing is promised. I’ve woken up in a totally different world from when I went to bed the night before, my entire life was upside down. I just try and focus on today and I can focus on tomorrow when it comes.

Q: If I were to ask your position coach about you, how do you think he would describe you?
A: Energetic, passionate young man with a bright future ahead of me.

Q: Fast forward five years from now, where do you see yourself?
A: I have no idea. At any point in my life. What I would like to be doing is no matter what I’m doing, I’m serving God in his glory and I’m able to share the blessings with my life. And to even consider anything other than that is foolish and selfish. If I’m doing that then I’m doing well and great.

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