by Martin Schlegel
On a cold, misty afternoon, the football team runs plays under the lights. Small puddles appear, accumulating slowly on the track surface, rising around the field like the Dragons’ injury count.
Senior quarterback Jake Hodge is one of those injured. Severe bone-bruising in his shoulder prevents him from throwing the football and limits him to punting and occasional receiver duties for the team — not at all what would be expected from the school’s all-time leading passer.
“It’s hard going out there every Saturday and watching them play,” Hodge said.
Fortunately, there is a way for Hodge to return and play a fifth year. The school can apply for a medical hardship waiver, more commonly known as a medical redshirt — a document any athlete who misses almost an entire season due to an injury may qualify for.
Under NCAA Division II regulation 14.2.5, a player “may be granted an additional year of competition by the conference or the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement for reasons of ‘hardship.’ Hardship is defined as an incapacity resulting from an injury or illness.”
The regulation has three conditions an athlete must meet to fill the requirements of medical hardship: an injury or illness must occur in one of the four years of competition; an injury or illness is the reason why the player missed the rest of the season; and the athlete has not played in more than two contests or played in 20 percent of the school’s competitions.
NCAA Division II rules also state players “have 10 semesters or 15 quarters of full-time enrollment in order to participate as a student-athlete. Of these 10 semesters or 15 quarters, a student-athlete only has four years of athletics eligibility (seasons of competition) in which he or she can participate against outside competition.”
Hodge has never been declared a redshirt since joining the Dragons, meaning he has a fifth year of eligibility, as stated under the rule.
Head coach Steve Laqua believes Hodge meets all the criteria, but that won’t be decided by him.
“It goes to a representative of the Northern Sun Conference,” Laqua said. “They make the decision.”
Laqua said all of the doctor’s records and documents, as well as the athletic trainer’s records and notes, will be examined by the representative. The medical records and documents will show when Hodge was injured and what he has done in his effort to recover. All check-ups and appointments with his doctor and trainer’s records of his week-to-week evaluations during his recovery are included.
Since the injury, Hodge has become an extra coach on the sideline.
“I try to stay involved all around,” he said.
He said he feels his role is being a positive influence on the rest of the team. He often discusses with teammates what he is noticing with opponent defensive schemes.
His relationship with his replacement, sophomore Demetrius Carr, has not changed. They continue to be friends on and off the field. Hodge knows he can still contribute by aiding Carr and helping him develop as a player.
Having a positive attitude with his teammates comes with ease. However, Hodge admits the daily grind he endures is stressful.
Every day since the injury, Hodge spends just as much time rehabbing his shoulder as he does in the classroom.
On a day that includes weight lifting at 5:30 or 6 a.m., his day does not end until around 6:30 p.m., when practice is over. In the 12 hours in between, Hodge spends a couple hours in class and a couple hours icing and stretching his shoulder. After lunch, he repeats the process — class and rehab. Some days he has more rehab after practice.
Hodge said he is usually able to start homework around 8 p.m., making time for sleep if he has lifting the following day.
Hodge said the team’s support is extremely helpful and keeps him thinking with a positive attitude.
“You always have your second family in the locker room with you,” Hodge said. “It’s fun to be around them.”
Laqua would like to have Hodge back for next season, but will not know if he can play next year until February.
If the request is denied, Laqua said, “We can appeal to the NCAA committee, (but) hopefully it doesn’t get to that point.”
After all the rigorous work Hodge has gone through, the last thing Laqua wants is to lose a star player.
Both are positive Hodge will be granted a medical redshirt.
“I may not be able to throw, but I can still run,” Hodge said. “It’s fun to fill in and run around with the guys. I’ve been through a lot of injuries in my career in high school and college. It will get better.”