The NFL has experienced its share of starting quarterback departures this season, and Devlin Hodges has seen the results of this situation up close.

Hodges, an undrafted rookie from Samford University in Alabama, relieved starter Mason Rudolph in the Steelers’ last game against the Cincinnati Bengals and led them to a 16-10 victory. Coach Mike Tomlin today named Hodges to start Sunday as the Steelers (6-5) take on the Cleveland Browns (5-6).

Earlier this season, Hodges was called upon to start for the Steelers against the Los Angeles Chargers when both the Steelers’ longtime starter, Ben Roethlisberger, and his backup, Rudolph, were injured. Hodges does not like injuries for his team or opponents, but he did take advantage of the situation he was placed in. Coming into the game with no NFL experience, but 14,584 passing yards (an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision record) and 111 TDs at Samford, Hodges was ready to take on fellow Alabama native and Catholic Philip Rivers, beating his Chargers 24-17.

The week after the victory, Hodges went hunting in Alabama, where he is known not only for calling plays, but calling ducks. He even won the 2009 Junior World Duck Calling Contest and the 2018 Alabama State Duck Calling Contest. These achievements earned him the nickname “Duck,” yet he did not duck any questions in this interview following the Chargers’ game about his conversion to Catholicism.

 

Did you ever think you’d be starting in the NFL as a rookie?

It is a great blessing to be able to play football at a high level, and I was a little amazed at the beginning of the Chargers’ game. However, I have thought to myself for a long time that I would one day start in the NFL. I didn’t know if that would be as a rookie or later on, but I’ve been preparing for that opportunity for years.

Closer to the Chargers’ game itself, we had a good plan put together, and other than my initial emotion, I was ready to play. Thankfully, we won that game and have won more since then, under Mason Rudolph’s leadership.

 

Did the Steelers’ defeat of the Philip Rivers-led Chargers mean even more to you than a victory would against any other team, since he is also a Catholic QB from Alabama?

I hate to see players injured, but it was also an opportunity to face a future Hall of Famer — especially a Catholic one from northern Alabama. Yet it’s not good to think about personal things like that during games; what’s more helpful is to do whatever you need to in the present moment in a routine sort of way, since football is always the same game anywhere you play.

It would have been a great day to win over any team the first time starting, but it did mean a little more against Philip. I basically told him that after the game. I introduced myself and told him I was also from northern Alabama and that he was one reason I became Catholic and served at the altar during Mass. He was gracious in defeat but will probably be very ready to beat us next time we play.

After the victory over the Chargers, I went back home to northern Alabama and went duck hunting with my father. It was something Philip has probably done himself, so that was a fitting extension to the game.

 

You didn’t grow up Catholic?

I wasn’t a cradle Catholic, but a convert. When I was a sophomore in high school, I went with a friend to Mass. And I could feel the presence of God there, and I was impressed by the Church carrying on the tradition that Christ established at the Last Supper. He said to “do this in memory of me,” and that was happening right before my eyes.

Sometimes we can think it would be great to live around the time of Christ in order to be very close to him, but we already are very close to him in the Catholic Church. The sacraments make present what was first instituted by Christ 2,000 years ago. We can live out exactly what we were told to do in New Testament times.

The Last Supper, baptism and other sacraments are described in the Bible, the inspired word of God that also comes to us through the Church. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit in a visible group of believers sharing the same faith and worship, we wouldn’t even know which books belong in the Bible to begin with.

Being a Catholic in any way is great, but I feel particularly blessed to have served at the altar, where the work of Christ through the priest can be seen up close. I’ve been able to serve at the altar with my brother Duncan, who’s currently a tight end on the University of North Alabama football team.

Our family went through RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] together and entered the Church together. It was a real team effort, too, because I remember one day after baseball practice, I was tired and didn’t want to go to the RCIA classes. My mom encouraged me to go, and I did. The very next day, I got my first college recruiting offer. I took that to mean God was serious about me being Catholic and had plenty of good things to bless me with.

Even though I knew going to the classes was the right thing to do, I needed that push to actually do it. That can happen sometimes: We see what’s good but need to be given the motivation or strength to do it when we’re tired or distracted by something else. That’s one of the major things a family is for, and I look forward to that with the family that I start one day.

 

What is it like to be on the same offense as two-time Pro-Bowler Alejandro Villanueva?

I’ve been to the team Mass a few times with Alejandro, who is an offensive tackle. He was surprised to see me there, since I’m from a part of the country known for being Protestant. Philip and I are at least two Catholics from the South, but, anyhow, I rely on Alejandro to protect me during the game, and that role actually starts in Mass with his prayers.

I usually pray that no one gets hurt, that both teams play to the best of their abilities, and that if I get a chance to get into the game, I glorify God. Even though winning is fun, it’s not really about getting that end result, so I don’t ask for it. I just want to do the best I can and have everyone else do the best they can, so it all works out for the glory of God.

 

Your mom works at EWTN, so was the network part of your family’s conversion process?

My mom works at EWTN as an assistant to the advertising manager for the National Catholic Register’s print edition and website — and other EWTN-affiliated sites. She had gone to some Catholic schools but was not Catholic herself. As she was on the way into the Church, Mother Angelica’s shows were instrumental for her.

While EWTN was not specifically part of my conversion to Catholicism, I know they have a lot of things Catholics can benefit from. Everything from the shrine in Hanceville to the print edition of the National Catholic Register to the TV show with former All-Pro wide receiver Danny Abramowicz called Crossing the Goal.

 

Do you have a favorite devotion such as the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet or Eucharistic adoration outside of Mass?

I have experienced all those ways of praying and others, but I haven’t chosen one or two that I do daily without fail. I do pray every day, but not always with a well-known devotion yet. My prayer is regimented, but free at the same time. There’s a general pattern or framework, but I use words that are spontaneous rather than memorized.

Every night I thank God for all the blessings he has given me, my family and friends. I ask for his continued blessings so that I can live how he wants me to, bringing glory to him.

I find that prayer calms me down and puts me in the right frame of mind. That should be expected, since prayer is communication with the God who created us and holds us in existence. Without God, there’s a lot to be anxious about.

 

St. Hubert is a patron of hunters. Do you have a devotion to him?

I have heard something about St. Hubert — that he was a bishop in Europe many years ago — but I need to look into his story more. My main patron is St. Sebastian, an early martyr that Philip Rivers also admires. That’s not surprising, since St. Sebastian is a patron of athletes. I chose him for a confirmation saint and like his courage and fortitude in being a Christian, no matter what the earthly consequences were.

 

For those not familiar with duck calling, how could there be enough variation in competitors to have an actual competition?

Competitors use the same acrylic instruments, which are also known as duck calls, and they do sound similar. Yet, like anything else, you can get better at it with practice, so if a beginner tried and I tried, I would probably have the finesse to make it more lifelike. I won’t give away my secrets, though.

The biggest secret — if you could call it that — is that in order to be really blessed, it is best to become Catholic. That’s what brings us closest to Christ, who holds all the meaning to life. I’m very grateful to be a member of his body, the Church.

Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.

His book, Fit for Heaven (available from Dynamic Catholic), 

contains numerous Catholic sports interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.