Skip to main content
trust theprocess (1)

Eight years ago, KhaDarel Hodge went back home to D'Lo, Miss., after a stint at Hinds Community College wondering what was next for his football career. From battling through injuries to being undrafted in 2018, Hodge never gave up on himself or the calling for his life.

Now, five years in the NFL, the Falcons wide receiver is living out a lifelong dream he'd work his entire life for.

Story by Ashton Edmunds

KhaDarel Hodge felt things going downhill, during the fall of 2014.

The sentiment emerged after playing one season at Hinds Community College and the first time he had ever played wide receiver in all his years playing football.

"It didn't go as planned at all," Hodge said during an extended interview with

From battling thumb and hamstring injuries that season to barely seeing playing time, nothing seemed to be clicking.

"That was my first year playing receiver and I was nothing," Hodge said. "That was my first time having to be pressed, get off man coverage... I was lost out there. I barely played at all."

After his lone semester at Hinds, Hodge returned home, praying for an answer on what was next.

"I'm at home and I'm like, 'man, I might have made the wrong decision'," Hodge said. "I didn't really have no answers, so I just kind of leaned back on God and started talking to God about it. I just told him, 'send me a sign.'"

For Hodge, who grew up going to church frequently, prayer is what carried him through a time where things didn't look so clear cut, and the foundation of faith is why Hodge is now playing in his fifth-year in the NFL and first season with the Atlanta Falcons.

"It's kind of crazy how my story went," he said.

The Falcons wideout grew up in the small town of D'Lo, Miss., with a population of no more than 400 people that houses one gas station natives call "Buddy's" and not much else.

Everybody in D'Lo knew everybody else, and the Hodge household was the prime spot for all his friends in the neighborhood. 

"It was always a pile of boys at my house," KhaDarel's mother Michelle Hodge said, laughing. "It was like an addition to the family when I would go in there and cook. I cooked enough for everybody and all of them know me as 'Ma'."

KhaDarel and his three siblings were raised by his resolute mother, Michelle, and his grandfather, who is a preacher and someone who's been vital in the receiver's life. If Hodge wasn't at school or practice, you knew he was at church.

"Six days a week, church" Hodge said, laughing. "Monday you got men's class, Tuesday some other type of class, Wednesday choir practice, Thursday choir practice, Friday, it'll be something else. I'm big on church and I'm big on the Lord, so I try to get that in as much as I can."

From his experiences growing up in the church, he established a strong sense of faith and self-belief.

Hodge attended Mendenhall High School in the next city over, not even three miles from D'Lo, where he starred as quarterback three straight years.

He wanted to stay under center, set on being an NFL quarterback following in the footsteps of his late cousin and former NFL quarterback, Steve McNair, who also grew up in the Magnolia State.

Yet, even with piling stats, Hodge wasn't highly recruited as a quarterback coming out of Mendenhall, despite throwing for 3,808 yards on 198 pass completions, 43 touchdowns, 10 interceptions while rushing for 2,642 yards and 32 touchdowns.

"Schools like Ole Miss and Mississippi State came to my house and wanted me to play receiver or safety," Hodge said, "and I'm like 'I never played that in my life."

They viewed Hodge as an athlete but didn't really see him as a quarterback at the college level.

"I thought I was, and I still think I could be," Hodge said with a grin.  

Alcorn State University, a historically Black university where McNair became a four-time SWAC Player of the Year, offered Hodge to come play quarterback. Everything seemed to align perfectly. He was playing in his home state, doing it at the same school where McNair starred and earned a full Division-I scholarship to play quarterback at the next level.

Like many freshmen across the college football landscape, though, he took a redshirt year after playing a few games. It wasn't ideal, but Hodge stuck with it. The following spring, he then made a tough decision to transfer from Alcorn State to Hinds Community College.

"I just had to make a business decision because at the time I didn't feel like quarterbacks from the SWAC were going to the NFL," he said. "So, I had decided to make the transition as a receiver."

However, that semester at Hinds felt like a nightmare. It seemed like things were getting worse and, for a brief moment, he wondered if he had made the wrong decision for his football career. There weren't any schools recruiting Hodge outside of lower-level Division II and Division III schools.

But then the unimaginable happened. 

Willie Simmons, Alcorn State's offensive coordinator when Hodge was there, got the head coaching job at Prairie View A&M University in early December of 2014, and gave a Hodge a call following his appointment.

"I kind of asked how he was doing and if he had signed somewhere, and he told me he hadn't," said Simmons, now Florida A&M head coach. "And I told him I had got the job at Prairie View, and he said, 'well, bring me with you.' I was like, 'Well, that's music to my ears.'"

Hodge had no idea what Prairie View A&M was or where the school was located, but he knew this was the opportunity he needed. Simmons signed him in 2015 and Hodge worked his way up as a starting wide receiver by midseason.

Reggie Moore, the wide receivers coach at Prairie View, played a pivotal role in Hodge's development from the time he started working with him in 2015 up until now.

"The things that I focused on with him is just building the foundation of fundamentals," Moore said. "Just hand placement on catches, route mechanics, separation techniques, releases and those kinds of things."

Having just transitioned to receiver a year prior, Moore said there were some challenging days but, as they kept working, Hodge kept getting better. Moore could tell he was locked in.

"He developed me from ground up," Hodge said.

In his three years playing for Prairie View, he tallied 1,797 yards on 104 receptions, and 21 touchdowns.

Yet, after his senior season, his draft stock was still nowhere near where he wanted it to be. He knew performing well at Prairie View's pro day might've been his last shot to put himself on the radar of NFL scouts, but there were only two in attendance -- someone from the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans.

Hodge exceeded his own expectations by running a 4.39 40-yard dash, overperforming on the vertical jump, and bench press. Things looked up and he felt great about how he performed.

Still, there was no buzz after his pro day, so he returned home before the draft.

He ultimately went undrafted in 2018 but the Rams brought him in for a workout.

"Didn't make it," Hodge said, "Ran routes but I didn't make it. I went back home, and you know back at home, during that little gap everybody's asking, 'What are you going to do now,' and I'm like, 'Man, I'm not going to stop.'"

During that time, Hodge kept that strong sense of faith instilled in him as a kid. It was in his nature to keep going.

Artboard 1

"You could see that there was a lot of stuff on his mind," Michelle Hodge said. "But you always have that thought in your mind that if this is what I want to do, then how am I going to go about getting it?"

Hodge kept working. He was back in D'Lo, spending long days outside in the Mississippi heat running routes by himself with no ball or nobody to throw to him. It was just Hodge and the open field.

"I see people looking [at me] like 'what are you doing' but I'm like, 'I don't care,'" Hodge said. "I'm just going to run these routes. No ball, no nothing, just me out there. Morning, night, day-to-day. I went to church and went to alter call again and I'm like 'just send me a sign.'"

Weeks later, Hodge received a call from the Rams asking what type of shape he was in. Luckily, all those routes ran weren't a waste. The Rams brought Hodge in for a workout the day before training camp.

"I ran the routes and killed it," he said keenly. "When I'm walking off the field, Sean McVay and the general manager [were] like, 'we want you.'"

An opportunity was all he needed. To finally get one, to finally be on an NFL roster, something he dreamed about his entire life, felt surreal.

"I said to myself if I get in and I get that chance, they're going to have to kick me out," he said. "It's my mindset to do whatever it takes no matter what I'm against. Ain't nothing going to break me."

Hodge played in 14 games for the Rams that season, including Super Bowl LIII, catching two passes for 17 yards and making five tackles on special teams.

Los Angeles released him a few months later but he later signed with the Cleveland Browns, posting 15 receptions for 256 yards through two seasons in Northeast Ohio. After the Browns released him in 2021, he was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions. That stint was short lived.

During that year, Hodge was in a bad place mentally.

"When you're in that dark place, it's kind of hard to come back out," he said. "I'm not really comfortable with talking to people, even if it's a therapist, about how I feel about things so me just doing that and meditating day and night, just saying positive things, it really helped me mentally with my game and with just life in general.

"That meditation really helps me get through the day and it gives me something to look forward to. I just look at things a different way when I do that. It's more positive vibes than looking at things the wrong way so it definitely helped my game come a long way."

On March 25, 2022, Hodge signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Through 10 games, Hodge has 12 receptions for 197 yards, averaging 16.42 yards a catch and scored his first career touchdown in Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers.

"He called me looking all happy skinning and grinning," Michelle Hodge said with a laugh. "He said 'Momma I had my first touchdown after five years'. I said, 'Well, did you do a dance?' and he said, 'I had to play the guitar on them.'"

After five years, Hodge sees the continuous growth not only in himself but in his game. Playing close to home is something he'd always envisioned for his career and being able to do it with the Falcons is something he's grateful for.

"I just felt like this was the spot I actually got to establish myself and who I am and who I wanted to be," Hodge said. "It's like a receiver, special teamer or whatever. It was like a fresh start for me."

With an unconventional path to the NFL, Hodge never gave up on himself. The path to this point was never easy but every setback, every trial and test, made the journey worth it even more.

"I try to do what I can do, especially with the kids man. I try to just be that positive guy," Hodge said. "Give them something to look up to, that's one of the reasons I really play ball besides providing for my family. I really wanted to be that person that can show the kids at home that no matter where you're from, no matter what people say, if you work at something and put your mind to it, then you can do it."

back to top

Related Content