Tiger greats meet in NFL

By MARLAN JONES,

Two Mendenhall Tigers were reunited on an NFL football field last Saturday. Martinas Rankin of the Houston Texans and his former Mendenhall teammate Khadarel Hodge of the Los Angeles Rams were able to reconnect during a preseason game.

Rankin was selected with the 80th pick in the NFL draft by the Texans. Martinas was the anchor of the Tigers offensive line during his high school career, where he often blocked for Hodge who played quarterback. Rankin finished at Mendenhall and received offers from several junior colleges and Mississippi Valley State. He signed with Gulf Coast Community College and had an impressive two seasons. He was awarded All-American and All-State honors, and unlike high school the offers came rolling in. Big time programs sought the services of the number one ranked JUCO tackle in the nation. Rankin went on to be star offensive lineman for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Hodge took a different path to achieve the same goal. Khadarel “Big Red” Hodge is one of the best athletes the Mendenhall Tigers ever produced. His performances in the Simpson County Super Bowl are still discussed among fans today. In 2012 as a junior quarterback, Hodge accounted for 80 passing yards, 185 rushing yards, and two touchdowns in a win against county rival Trojans. The following season Hodge led the Tigers to a 35-16 win over the Trojans in which he had 115 passing yards, 112 rushing yards, and three touchdowns. He was clearly an exceptional talent at the quarterback position. Hodge signed a scholarship to play division one football at Alcorn State University as a quarterback, but redshirted and eventually left the school.

At Hind Community College he started his transition from quarterback to receiver. He said, “I saw myself at the next level as more of a receiver than a quarterback. I relied more on athleticism and my talents would serve me better as a receiver.”

He admitted that it took a tremendous amount of work on his behalf to catch up to the position. He had played quarterback his entire life but was aware that his skill set was better suited for receiver. Hodge played well enough at Hinds to earn a spot on the Prairie View A&M University roster as a Panther in 2015. By 2017 he emerged as a star.  He eclipsed 100 yards receiving three times in 2017. Hodge torched Arkansas Pine Bluff for a career high 232 receiving yards and three touchdowns on November 11. He showed improvement through each of his three seasons as a receiver and finished 2017 with 48 receptions for 844 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was named an All-American and received First Team All-SWAC honors.

After receiving validation and proving himself on the field,his work did not stop. He continued to train and prepare for his pro day, where he could show NFL scouts his talent. The day came and went. Seven rounds of the draft passed him by and his name was not called. Hodge went the undrafted route and was signed by the Los Angeles Rams on July 24.

Both of these players have been impressive since entering the league. Rankin battled some early injuries, but has since returned to the field. He made his preseason debut against the Rams. Hodge has been consistent and electrifying at times. He is slowly gaining recognition and doing so by making highlight reel plays. In the Rams’ first preseason game against the Ravens, Hodge scored the team’s only touchdown. He followed that performance by making a ridiculous 47 yard catch over a defender in the preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.

The two hometown favorites met each other on the field after Saturday’s game in which the Rams beat the Texans 21-20. Rankin and Hodge shared a moment that touched many of their supporters back home. The two men exchanged jerseys and expressed how proud they were of each other. Rankin told reporters after the game, "That was my high school teammate." He added, "We're the first guys to make it to the NFL since like the 1980s. I'm proud of him. That was cool. That was something I was looking forward to. I'm glad I was able to do it."

Hodge expressed his sentiment via Facebook in a post that simply read, “Priceless! We made it brudda!”