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Former pro mentors Cougs
Diverse background brings unique perspective
Published 6/26/2013 6:00:00 AM
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The history of Cougar football flowed from his mouth like he had written it, and in a sense, he did.

Milford Hodge, a former WSU defensive end, combines knowledge from his journey in sports with his counseling background to challenge student-athletes in preparation for their career after athletics.

Hodge was one of the four defensive linemen to get drafted between the 1984-1986 seasons.

Hodge considers this group to be one of the best defensive lines in WSU history. It consisted of Keith Millard and Eric Williams, who were drafted in 1984 in 1st and 3rd rounds, respectively, of the NFL draft.

Hodge followed suit in 1985 when the New England Patriots drafted him in the 8th round.

The last of the four was Erik Howard, who was picked up in the 2nd round by the NY Giants in 1986.

"Erik Howard came in lifting the city. By the way he played he created the chemistry we had," Hodge said.

Hodge attributed their play to the friendship they shared. This value Hodge said helped them to a memorable 1983 victory over the University of Washington Huskies.

"Back then it was almost a hate rivalry," Hodge said. "One of their coaches called us the Keystone Kops. I remember to this day (Jim) Walden came into the team room … he was beat red and pissed off. He said, ‘You guys have been hearing about the Keystone Kops. No one calls my team names.’ And everybody was just quiet, real quiet."

This game was not just an Apple Cup victory, but it also knocked the Huskies out of a trip to the Rose Bowl.

After his fifth year with the Cougs, Hodge went onto to the NFL where he played seven seasons surpassing the average career length of six years in the NFL, according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"The NFL didn’t do anything for me. Yes I did make good money and stuff like that, but as far as after you’re gone, you’re retired, that’s how you know the real world," Hodge said. "The experience of playing and being on an NFL team, that was a dream. I loved that. But learning the business of it, signing a contract doesn’t mean anything."

After seven seasons in the NFL, including one trip to the Super Bowl, Hodge retired in 1992.

Following his retirement, WSU offered Hodge a scholarship to come back and finish his degree. He only had three classes left to take.

Once he completed his course work for his undergraduate degree, Hodge said Mike Price, the head football coach at the time, insisted that he become a graduate assistant coach for the football team.

The position was one that would pay for Hodge to get his master’s degree in education administration while coaching the football team.

Hodge said he was going to move to Louisville, Ky. to coach after he completed his master’s degree, but again Price changed his mind.

"Coach Price told me I was too much of a family guy and coaching was going to take me away from that. He said, ‘We know you; you don’t want to be away from your family.’"

Instead Hodge was offered a position as an academic counselor for the athletic department. He was then put in charge of a mentoring program for student-athletes, which he currently oversees.

Bob Minnix, a colleague and assistant associate athletic director for transition and retention, said Hodge’s background lends him to be more in tune with all of the student-athletes.

"His football career is only part of what he brings to the table," Minnix said. "By being a student–athlete he understands the mentality and time constraints of student-athletes. He had been through it. Also the fact that he coached, he had an opportunity to see from a different perspective."

Hodge said his varied sports’ experience helps him bring a unique perspective.

"I can say I have been there and done that. But your sport isn’t going to last forever," Hodge said. "You’re not going to be able to play professional football for the rest of your life."

Hodge said he would use WSU quarterback Ryan Leaf as an example of what might occur when one is not mindful of their future.

"Ryan Leaf was my scout team quarterback when he first got here. We knew he was going to be a big time player," Hodge said. "I saw him before he went into the NFL. I told him not to go. I said ‘Physically you’re ready; mentally you’re not.’ Then I asked him, ‘Can you handle being the savior of a team?’ And he just looked at me. I told him to wait another year."

While he can’t control their actions, Hodge said the only thing he can do is give them his advice and hope they listen.

"If Leaf had done it the right way, he would still be playing," Hodge said. "People look at me like I’m crazy."

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