Fredericton native Chris Hodgson has been turning heads in recent football workouts, as he prepares for his rookie season with the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men in the fall. He’s hoping to eventually crack the pro football ranks.

Hodgson making big strides in football

By Robert Touchie

Chris Hodgson was born 25 years ago with large shoes to fill.

Blessed with natural God-given talent, the offspring of former Fredericton-born and trained Toronto Blue Jay outfielder, Paul Hodgson, Chris has always felt a burning desire to succeed on his own terms.

With his recent foray into the sport of football, he may just have found his true calling.

Hodgson began the year playing hockey with Gardiner MacDougall's powerhouse UNB Varsity Red hockey program but at 25, and after two and a half years on campus, he found that it was time to explore other avenues.

Enter David Knott.

Knott had spent this past football season coaching the FHS JV Kats to an Atlantic title while simultaneously working on the UNB Red Bomber's staff as an assistant coach to Mike Dollimore.

Knott was turned onto working with Hodgson at the urging of his former FHS Black Kat head coach and current St. FX assistant, Don Davis.

Thus far Knott has been overwhelmed with Hodgson's progress with the sport in such a short period.

"Chris has undeniable natural talent and he has the potential to be a menace on the football field, literally a monster," said Knott, a former X-Men teammate of current X head coach, Gary Waterman.

"I have seen a guy who really has come out of his shell the last two months as a football prospect.

"I expected he might emerge from that shell as a baby chick, but he has surpassed my expectations and evolved right into a rooster with his workouts. It gives him a chance to make the successful transition to football and also separate himself from the pack of former CIS stars attending these combines.

"I think given an equal opportunity to those players and with good mentoring and coaching, I give him a good chance to catch on with a team as a practice squad player," Knott said. "If he can do that, who knows what could come next? Worst-case scenario, he plays next season at X and is ready for the jump next year."

The aspiration to become a professional football player would provide a life that Hodgson has always dreamed of: an occupation where his life would consist of eating, sleeping, working out and hitting people.

"This game fits my lifestyle, I've always been a gym guy and where else can you get paid to hit people, work out and eat 24/7?" said Hodgson, who has gone from 240 pounds to 256 in just two short months, while simultaneously lowering his body fat percentage. "I mean I loved hitting in hockey, and I loved working out to get ready for hockey.

The difference I find with this sport is that your build is the first thing coaches look at, like you're a piece of meat. It's how you are judged"¦like, 'what can you do - show me?' - and the gym doesn't lie."

Hodgson has taken the world of Canadian football by storm with his workouts.

At the combine in Montreal he benched 225 (the measure of all measures for a football player) a solid 25 times, had a vertical of 39 inches and preformed the shuttle in 4.34, but it was his 40-yard dash that got people talking: Hodgson ran his 40 in 4.47 seconds.

For a man his size, it's unheard of, even in professional football circles where the goal is to find them bigger and faster every year.

Hodgson's totals placed him second in the D-Line category in all of the measured areas, with the exception of the 40 where he was far and away the fastest lineman there.

Heck, he was faster than any of the linebackers, by a mile ... and really, the man was floating into wide receiver and defensive back range, guys 70-80 pounds lighter than him.

To the football layman, what does this mean?

"What it means is that this guy is a complete freak," said Knott. "Look at the numbers on the TSN website (Hodgson's are not listed because he was not an official invitee), they don't lie. Chris blew everyone away in his 40, the next guy was at 4.78 in his category. He was bigger and faster than all the linebackers there and he outperformed all the D-Lineman, as well.

"Clearly he proved he is on the same level as them, and in fact he showed he is above them from the physical perspective."

Knott is right in what he says and the proof is in the recently published Sporting News NFL Draft 2010 handbook. That's right, the NFL draft handbook. In that publication over 100 of the top U.S. College players are rated by the same criteria and guess what? None of them can match up to Hodgson's numbers either. No one is even close, actually.

In this publication it lists the "NFL Optimum" for outside Linebacker or Defensive Ends respectively (the two positions Hodgson would line up at for a man his size) as: 6-3, 245 with a 4.50, 40 yard and 6-5, 285 with a 4.6, 40.

So why doesn't Hodgson just pack his bags for the NFL now?

Because there is a lot more to playing football than working out in spandex tops and cotton shorts, that's why. So says David Skillen, a guy who knows a thing or two about what it takes to make that jump to the next level, having attended the CFL combine last year and having been wooed by the Montreal Alouettes, all before returning to X for a fifth year.

"I think everyone knows that this guy is just an awesome athlete, maybe one of the best I have ever seen, but with that said there are other factors that have to be considered," said Skillen, a fifth-year all-conference X-Men linebacker/defensive end as well as team captain.

"It will come down to how hard he wants to work, what kind of attitude he brings to the table and his ability to adapt to whatever surroundings he is thrown into.

"The biggest adjustment for Chris will almost certainly be this: how well can he learn the playbook and mesh with his teammates in the system that is in place. People forget that there is a huge mental side to this game and I think we can all agree that the physical component is not a challenge to a guy like Chris.

"It will almost certainly come down to the mental aspect, the playbook," said Skillen.

"I am pulling for him, I've been working out with him and he has impressed me with his natural talent, but everyone needs to be careful not to put too much pressure on him because there is a huge step from college to pro and he has not even become acclimatized to the sport yet, let alone the college game "¦ and the step to the professional level from college is huge."

Waterman is also impressed with Hodgson's natural gifts while cautiously optimistic for his football neophyte, and echoes Skillen's concerns of moving too fast.

"We're really excited to have Chris join the X-Men for this upcoming season and since he's been here he's done everything we have asked of him while getting a crash course in the game of football," said Waterman.

"We have to remember that most players at the CIS level have a lot more football experience than Chris, but he has shown to be an outstanding athlete who possesses that rare combination of speed, quickness and explosiveness that should serve him well on the gridiron.

"I really think that if he works hard, stays focused and adapts to our systems and playbook, the sky could be the limit for Chris and we are looking forward to seeing him improve as a football player and student here at X."