Ever since Trevor Harris walked out the door in Ottawa, the search for his replacement has resulted in an awful lot of those being thrown in the nation’s capital.
Over the past two seasons, Jonathon Jennings, Will Arndt, Dominique Davis and Matt Nichols have all tossed their fair share of fluttering footballs as the Redblacks have sunk to the bottom of the CFL just as rapidly as they once ascended to prominence.
Now, with just a touch of irony, the future hopes and dreams of RNation may rest in the hands of a ‘Duck’ at the quarterback position.
The signing of former Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges — nicknamed for his passion for hunting and history as a championship duck caller — to a three-year contract has reignited conversation around a team many fans had begun to view as about as dead in the water as a mallard sent tumbling from the sky by a shotgun.
With Ottawa struggling offensively without quarterback stability once again, Hodges is viewed by many as a player who might find his way into the lineup sooner rather than later. General manager Marcel Desjardins wouldn’t rule out that possibility during an appearance on TSN 1200’s The Drive, he also dismissed that the move was related to the play of either current Ottawa quarterback. In fact, it was Hodges himself who sparked the signing process.
“Really he initiated contact with us at this point with the interest of coming up north and giving the CFL a chance. The timing is just basically dictated by those facts and the fact that he was let go by the Rams a little while ago and he doesn’t want to sit around and hope something comes around. He wants to commit to coming up north now,” Desjardins explained.
“If he doesn’t reach out to us and shows interest in coming up here, I would say that we’re not signing any quarterback right now.”
Giving the Redblacks’ play of late, some might view that as a red flag, but Hodges, who broke the NCAA FCS career passing yards record set by former NFL MVP Steve McNair while playing in tiny Homewood, Alabama for the Samford Bulldogs, has now landed in the team’s lap regardless.
Having been on Ottawa’s negotiation list since 2017, the quarterback was well aware that an opportunity in Canada might be available to him after college. Instead, an undrafted free agent shot with Pittsburgh in 2019 rocketed Hodges to the status of internet cult hero when injuries forced him into action in eight games as a rookie, totaling 1,063 passing yards, five touchdowns, and eight interceptions while winning four games.
Hodges spent the next year on the Steelers’ practice squad, before signing with the Los Angeles Rams this past off-season. He was released during training camp and quickly turned his attention to Canada, having always kept one eye on that career avenue.
His arrival in Ottawa will mark just his second trip to the great white north — the first being a duck hunting trip in Saskatchewan during the bye week of that surprising 2019 season. Hodges has already learned some of the ins and outs from former teammates like Shaheed Salmon and Diontae Spencer, who have let him know what to expect from the organization. The on-the-field understanding will come with time, but Hodges got a jump-start on that as well.
“I’ve watched games before. I was watching the game in 2019 even when I was playing because I love football,” Hodges told the hosts of TSN 1200’s In The Box while driving north from his home in Alabama.
“It’s always something I’d been interested in, especially come July and early August when there’s no other football games going. When you see the CFL on the TV, you can’t help but tune in.”
So how does the 25-year-old feel his skill set translates to the unique style of game that has tripped up so many other former NFL starters? Pretty naturally apparently.
“My thing is if the field’s big, that’s just the opportunity for more passing yards,” said Hodges. “I’ve always been a gunslinger. In college we threw the ball 60, 70 times per game. I know the CFL is a pass-first league, so there’s a lot of excitement on my end.”
That’s music to the ears of scores of Redblacks fans who haven’t trusted their passing attack since 2018 and Hodges is sure to endear himself to the Ottawa faithful in other ways as well. Backwoods charm made him an NFL fan favourite with the Steelers and that is sure to carry over, but Hodges also shares a passion with many Canadians: hockey.
Before he correctly chose to focus on his quarterbacking, Hodges fell in love with Canada’s national past time while growing up in the deep south and ultimately prefers it to the gridiron. The Senators will have a brand new fan as soon as the puck drops on their new season.
“Hockey was the first sport that I played and I’m a big hockey fan. I’d rather watch hockey on television than football,” said Hodges.
“That was one thing that I told my dad — I’m going to try to go to a ton of hockey games while I’m up here.”
More pucks is just one of many fringe benefits Hodges is looking forward to in Ottawa and ducks are another. It’s not lost on the avid sportsman that he’s arriving just in time for the the hunting season of his namesakes to open and the earlier CFL season may present another unique opportunity.
A junior world champion duck caller back in 2009, the football season has held him back from international competition ever since. He settled for an Alabama State Championship in 2018, but the possibility of winning a Grey Cup and then becoming a world champion duck caller now exists.
“Let me say that would be probably the greatest 10 days of my life. That’d be pretty wild,” Hodges laughed. “I don’t think any other professional athletes can say that that they’ve done that, so we need to make that happen.”
So long as all the ducks are off the field and not on it, the Redblacks will have no complaints.