November 12, 2010 7:45:00 AM
Some players are blessed with the speed of a gazelle or the size of a behemoth.
Others get by on guile or will power.
If you know football, you know what category 5-foot-7, 210-pound defensive lineman Dalton Hodges belongs in.
"He has willed himself into being a player," New Hope High School football coach Michael Bradley said. "He didn''t let his physical stature prevent him from becoming everything he could become. He plays every snap as hard as he can. He is the kind of kid that makes a coach excited to be a coach. I love him. He gives everything he has got."
Hodges and his undersized and overachieving linemates will do their best at 7 tonight when New Hope plays host to Jackson Callaway (9-2) in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoffs.
Hodges was a starter last season when New Hope defeated Callaway 34-33 in Columbus en route to an appearance in the 5A North State title game.
This year, Hodges is a year stronger and wiser. He also is a little tougher after battling through the aches and pains of a stress fracture all season. Hodges believes he suffered the injury while working out in the weight room his sophomore year. He admits thinking it was a pulled muscle and not going to the doctor''s office until earlier this year.
Hodges has come to play football with the same obstinance. Earlier in his career, Hodges felt he wouldn''t be able to play football because of his size. He said he found his confidence in the weight room, and now bench presses close to 300 pounds and can squat well over 500 pounds.
"I have always been an underdog in anything I do," Hodges said. "I guess the weight room is really what inspired me."
Hodges said he has followed the example of other overachievers who have come through the New Hope High football program. He said he saw they could accomplish big things and focused his effort in the weight room to build strength so he could overcome his lack of size.
Hodges said the maturation started as a freshman, when he said he "busted his butt" in the weight room. He followed that plan as a sophomore and was moved to the defensive line.
"They gave me a chance and I took that opportunity and made the best of what I had," Hodges said. "I had faith in my coaches and I took what I learned from them and I am using it now, and it is really paying off."
Hodges credits New Hope High assistant coach Matt Keith for helping teach him how to be a better defensive lineman. He hopes some of his younger teammates can follow the example he and the other seniors have set and will continue to build the tradition for the New Hope High football program.
"The coaches always tell us if we go hard good things will happen," Hodges said.
Bradley said Hodges epitomizes many of the players who have come through the program in his time at the school. He said Hodges isn''t the biggest or the fastest player, but he makes up for what he doesn''t have with hard work and guts.
"He knew what it was going to take and he willed himself into that and into a vital member of our defense and our team," Bradley said. "If I told him to knock a wall down and we would win I think he would line up and hit that son of a gun. He is just that kind of kid."
n West Point gears up for title defense
Excuses mean very little in the regular season.
They''re worth even less in November and December, when the state''s best teams come together to crown champions.
West Point has been on both ends of that spectrum.
Two years ago, the Green Wave suffered through a turnover-plagued game and lost to Lafayette County in the first round of the Class 4A North State playoffs.
Last year, West Point had a balanced attack that helped it overcome Wayne County for its sixth state title.
Starting tonight against Provine (5-6), coach Chris Chambless hopes the Green Wave (10-1) can be students of history. To reinforce that point, Chambless thinks back to 2006, when West Point lost to Clarksdale in the Class 4A playoffs. A key injury damaged the Green Wave''s chances in the title game and affected the players'' mind-set. Chambless said he could see it in his players'' eyes. He said he doesn''t want this group to use anything as an excuse or a reason to lose focus.
"We tell them every day they have to try their best to win whether we have a full roster or not," Chambless said.
West Point has carried that attitude throughout the regular season. Aside from a 21-20 loss to Starkville, in which it led 20-0 at halftime, the Green Wave have handled every challenge, especially in a rough-and-tumble Region 1. Their 7-0 region mark shows they have been able to take the best punch from a rival even when they haven''t been at full strength.
Tonight, Chambless said his team will be banged up, just like every other team in the state, and that it will have everyone ready to go. It remains to be seen if all of those players will be at full strength, but he said all of the players know to be ready in case of anything.
"They are real tough and resilient," Chambless said. "They have had to fight and claw in a lot of games to win this year. They should feel good that they''re doing that, and I don''t think they''re ready to go home yet. They want to keep playing."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.