Meridian Star

Sports

December 3, 2013

Former Knight wraps up successful college career

MERIDIAN — Way before he was the Atlantic Sun Conference Defensive Player of the Year, before earning a conference tournament MVP, East Tennessee State soccer player Nate Hodges was a four-year-old, pouting on the side of his older brother Patrick’s soccer game in Collinsville.

    The two are separated by only 13 months, but to the then budding soccer star it might as well have been 13 years. Meridian Youth Soccer Organization league rules stated the earliest a player could compete was at five years old, meaning Nate would have a whole year to dream about joining his brother on the pitch.

    Watching not only motivated him to play a year later, it fueled a fire that would carry him to an illustrious career in the sport.

    “That’s probably where it all started for me” Hodges said. “I was really jealous. I was as angry and sad as a kid could be.”

    Nate was born in Germany while his father Mac served out a three-year tour in the military. After watching groups of local children gather at a nearby field every day to play soccer, Mac decided when he returned home, he would sign his boys up for the sport.

    Nate instantly fell in love with the soccer, showing signs of talent even at a young age. He stayed in MYSO until he was nine years old, moving to the Chicago Fire Juniors team in Jackson.

    After helping the Junior Fire to a state title, Hodges suited up for West Lauderdale High School as an eighth grader –he didn’t only play, he excelled. Hodges went on to earn all-district honors, an achievement he’d accomplish all five years with the Knights.

    During his junior and senior year, the improvement continued. He earned all-state honors both years before leading West Lauderdale to a runner up finish in the 4A state finals his senior season. After earning the MVP in the Mississippi High School Athletic Association’s all-star game, the question was not whether Hodges’ would continue his career in college, but where.

    “I always knew I was good enough to play in college,” Hodges said. “I didn’t know if it would be Division I, Division II, Division III or junior college, but I knew the level of player I was.”

    Hodges originally committed to the University of Memphis, but while competing in a showcase in Orlando, Fla. his plans were altered. Coaches from East Tennessee State University saw his talent right away and approached him about the chance of starting as a freshman at the next level. The opportunity was too good to give up. 

    “Memphis just didn’t fulfill the promises I needed to be made,” he said. “I just really liked the coaches at East Tennessee State, and it turned out to be a great fit.”

    The decision would be beneficial to both sides. After three solid years at the left back position, Hodges was named a team captain during his senior year. However, the added responsibility did not stop there. The Buccaneers switched him up the pitch to defensive midfielder. Not only would he have an increased leadership role in the locker room, Hodges would now have more responsibilities on the pitch as well. Despite the pressure, he immediately embraced both roles.

    “I was just really happy,” he said. “Defensive mid is so much more involved in the game. I’m just glad they gave me that opportunity.”

    The increased workload did not faze Hodges one bit. Instead, he helped lead ETSU to 10 shutouts this past season en route to earning Atlantic Sun Defender of the Year. The Buccaneers eventually took home the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championship with a 3-1 win over North Florida as Hodges netted the opening goal to help ETSU advance to the NCAA tournament.

    With his collegiate soccer days now behind him, Hodges has been invited to try out for the United Soccer League’s Charlotte Eagles. Though he is uncertain if soccer will ultimately be his path in the future, he said he is grateful for the journey the sport has taken him on and encourages young soccer players in the area to follow his footsteps and pursue their dreams. 

    “Expose yourself to the best level of competition you can,” he said. “If you expose yourself to the best players and really test yourself you can rise to the top.”

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