Isaiah Hodgins ascends: 'The sky’s the limit for me’
He's finally getting his shot with the Giants... and is making the most of it. The wide receiver opens up on getting released by the Bills and bringing Stefon Diggs' "attack mentality" to New York.
Isaiah Hodgins got his NFL shot — finally — and he’s running with it.
So, what does this look like? How does a wide receiver prove himself?
Go Long chatted with the New York Giants wide receiver at length for an inside look. The Giants’ wide receiver room was decimated by injuries, Hodgins was claimed off waivers and he’s quickly become a go-to guy for Daniel Jones on this 8-5-1 team thinking playoffs. Hodgins is up to 25 receptions for 261 yards with two scores and will undoubtedly play a massive role down the stretch.
Hodgins opens up about his time with the Buffalo Bills, the team that selected him in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. Yes, he badly wanted to play but he also learned a ton from Pro Bowler Stefon Diggs. He explains what it’s like to get released and have zero clue where your life’s heading. (With a son, too.) And to his core, Hodgins knows he’s a competitor who will never quit. He’s relying on life lessons instilled by his father, James Hodgins, a former NFL fullback.
The 6-foot-3, 201-pound wideout from Oregon State believes this is only the beginning.
He’s got Diggs’ same “attack mentality” and plans to do something with it. For years.
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We love guys like yourself. Fighting like hell to make it. Here you were in Buffalo and you didn’t really get a chance — rations were more so thrown your way with all the receivers there. Did you know this opportunity would come, to show who you are as a player?
Hodgins: I loved my time in Buffalo. I still keep in contact with some of the coaches and a lot of the players. Obviously, it didn’t work out how I wanted it. Obviously, every player wishes they played more and were more a part of the gameplan. But I think it happened for a reason. It ended up working out for the better. It was tough being in such a deep wide receiver room. But I got to learn so much from those guys over the years — from Diggs to Beasley to John Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Even Gabe and Isaiah McKenzie. Watching tape and practicing with them. Coach Chad (Hall). He helped me with my technique. It was two, almost three years of being with all those people and grabbing knowledge. Practice. Rehab. Play. All the in’s and out’s. Now that I’m here, I feel like I’m giving that to some of the players here. Now it’s actually my opportunity to put that stuff into practice that I’ve been sitting and waiting on forever now.
What specifically did you pick up on?
Hodgins: The ins and outs of route running. The different techniques. You could talk to a regular fan or even a kid in college, you tell him to run a slant and they might just run a slant. But in the NFL, there’s like five different ways to run a slant based off leverage. Press or off. I got to really see their technique. OK, the route on paper says to do this, but in the game you’re really going to do it like this. Understanding the ins and outs of coverages and technique and overall football IQ.
So many of Diggs’ routes come to mind. He’s turning corners into pretzels. Stevie Johnson was a little before your time but he’d be out there and it’s not a specific route. It’s not linear, on a piece of paper. It’s reaction. A basketball game almost. A feel for how that dude is playing you. That’s what Diggs does. You probably only know what to do in the moment.
Hodgins: Stevie Johnson is actually from the Bay Area, where I’m from, too. I’ve known of him since high school. When he was in his Buffalo days, that was someone I was looking up to. Like, “Dang, this guy is nasty with his releases and his routes. Everything.” He actually hit me up when I quoted that video, when it was the preseason vs. the Colts and I had that release and I had a deep catch. So I got to chop it up with him a little bit. People like him and Diggs, you get to see all the different ways you can do one thing. All the different techniques. And you really don’t know going into the game. You can anticipate, like, “I think the corner is going to play like this. I saw this on film.” But he might come out and play a whole different way. You have to have your toolbox ready and think on the fly, “Alright, I’m going to hit him with this release.”
Nobody was really doing the stuff that Stevie did then — you’re freelancing out there, operating off of feel. Is a route called but you have the option to change it up?
Hodgins: It depends. There are some routes that locked. If it’s a locked slant, you have to run the slant. But there are different ways you can run the slant. You could have a press corner and you could burst him outside like you’re running a fade and come back underneath. You could inside-release and then keep going. There are a bunch of different ways. And then there are a bunch of routes in Dabes’ offense where you have option routes. You can go in, out, straight, sit down. On routes like that, you’re really just reading the coverage and reading the person in front of you and how he’s playing you. If he’s inside, you might break out. If he’s outside, you break in. His offense is very wide receiver-friendly, so it’s fun to be a part of.
You do need chemistry with your quarterback to pull this stuff off. When you’re buried on a depth, I imagine there’s not many opportunities to gain a rapport with Josh Allen. Did you catch many passes from him? Were you on the scout team for the most part?
Hodgins: For the first year, there weren’t many times. I would say this past year was when I got the most reps with him in camp and, in the preseason, there were times they’d throw me in there with the ones and make some plays with him. It definitely takes chemistry and him knowing how you run a fade route, how you run a slant. Everyone does that stuff differently.
You’re gaining all of this with Daniel Jones in the games. And you found it so fast. How have you gotten on the same page as him? That’s a receiver room that’s been gutted by injuries. You’re this silver lining. You’re the hope in the now and the future.
Hodgins: It’s taken a lot of communication and Daniel does a great job of that. He’s a very hard-working, dedicated quarterback. He’s always staying after to throw routes with people and doing extra meeting time with the receivers to watch film and get on the same page. That (builds) a bond between a wide receiver and a quarterback. I know where he’s expecting me to be. He knows where I’m going to be.
What’s his work ethic like?
Hodgins: His work ethic is great. There’s times where I’m one of the last guys in the building getting an extra lift in. I see him and he’s already in there doing med-ball slams or all of this quarterback-specific stuff. He’s coming up to me to say, “Hey, do you want to stay after practice for an extra 30 minutes of film?” He cares about the game and he’s trying to take that extra step and trying to excel. You can tell he really cares and stuff like that is contagious. It makes other people want to catch on and rally and do the same thing.
What an opportunity for you to be a mainstay. The head coach knows you and what makes you tick. Now, you’re getting those reps with the quarterback. You want to win now and make the playoffs and be a champion now. But for the long term, how valuable has it been to be thrown into the fire, starting and scoring touchdowns on a team that’s just been decimated?
Hodgins: It’s a blessing. I’ve prayed a long time for stuff like this. Being able to showcase my abilities and all of the hard work. I knew that in Buffalo and I had that mindset, which is why I obviously wasn’t happy that I wasn’t playing. But I stayed with that hard work ethic and dedication because I knew my time was going to come eventually whether it was in Buffalo or with a different team. Now that it’s here, I’m grateful. I learn more and more every game. The more snaps I get and the more corners I go against and the more times I play a full four quarters, I really learn how different teams do stuff. I feel like it’s going pretty smooth for me right now and I just have to keep working hard.
You’ve always been around the game, but what was your upbringing like? To be a late-round pick, buried on a practice squad for a while, and you don’t know where your career’s going to go — a lot of guys in your position — it’s easy to fade away at that point and have to look for a new profession. But you’re here. You’re catching touchdowns on a playoff-caliber team. What about you, your upbringing, your childhood makes you equipped to make it and eventually be a star in this league?
Hodgins: I would definitely credit my father and my upbringing. Both of my parents did a great job of making sure I stayed dedicated to things that I love and honoring God with it. But most importantly: Never quitting. My Dad played in the NFL so I got to see him and some of the stuff he went through and hear a lot of his stories. He’s been through injuries. He’s had good contracts and times he’s gotten cut. He’s been through the ups and downs. One thing he did was make sure me and my brother never quit. Whether we were playing a video game and it was Madden or if I signed up for a basketball season and I said, “Man, I don’t want to play for this coach anymore,” he said, “You signed up. You’re finishing.” That mindset. A lot of people have the athletic ability. They have every trait and they’re big and they’re fast. But if you don’t have that mindset of, “I’m going to outwork everybody — even if it doesn’t go my way.” Because a lot of times, it’s not. A lot of times, you do deserve it. You should have this shot and for whatever reason it doesn’t line up. What are you going to do in that moment? Are you going to get mad and throw a fit? And say, “Oh, the coaches…” and quit and your work ethic sucks? Or are you going to keep pushing and keep fighting? That’s the stuff players helped me with in Buffalo. That’s stuff my Dad helped me with. My wife. Everyone keeps me going and keeps me motivated to keep that mindset and keep pushing. I hope to instill the same thing in my son one day.
Everybody’s talented at this point, to get to the NFL. You’re not a bum. You’ve got to be able to run a 4.4, 4.5, bench whatever, jump whatever. Everybody’s talented. But what really does separate guys is — and it gets lost in the coverage of the game because we’re so enamored with analytics — that this is a human game played by humans. The humans who are not going to quit and fight through adversity are the ones who’ll do what you’re doing. Right now, you’re introducing yourself to the world. How much of it is exactly what you said? Fighting those through moments where guys usually quit?
Hodgins: It’s huge. It’s everything. If you haven’t gone through a trial, prepare. Because you’re about to go through one. You’re either coming out of one or you’re going into one. It’s not if you hit adversity. It’s when. In the NFL, you’re going to hit it. Whether it’s getting cut or getting hurt or dropping a game-winning pass or catching a game-winning pass. There are ups and downs. It’s about staying consistent and having that mindset. I truly believe that’s one of the more important things. When you look at Jordan Poyer. He went to Oregon State, so obviously I knew him and watched him in college. When he was with my agency, my agent said all the time, “He didn’t get drafted high because he went to the Combine and people didn’t like that he didn’t run a fast 40. He didn’t pass the eye test. He didn’t look great.” What they didn’t see what his knowledge of the game. His dog mentality. How bad he really wants it. That eventually showed for him. He went from playing 100 snaps in the preseason and barely making a team to now he’s an All-Pro safety. He has the potential to do it back-to-back. Because of his mindset and how hard he really works. No matter what injury I’ve seen him with — earlier in the year when he was battling that — he was watching the same amount of film. He was rehabbing. He was working hard. He was encouraging his teammates. He was like, “I know I’m going to be back. I know my time is going to come.” That mindset is huge. So many times, people tap out too early. They’re so close to reaching their potential. We’re here now. We’re in the NFL. You’re right there. Your dreams are right in front of you. Something doesn’t go their way and they tap out.
Take me through your moments. When could you have quit? What are those moments from a young age with that basketball team to becoming an NFL player where you easily could’ve tapped out and quit?
Hodgins: Shoot, there was a bunch. In high school, that was the first one I could think of. I think it was my junior year and, at that point, I already had 15 to 20 offers for football. I was going into my senior year and it was December and it was basketball. We were alright. My coach wanted me so bad and I was a starter. I just didn’t feel like playing. My Dad said, “No, you’ve got to finish what you started.” And then I committed to Oregon State. Literally days before I was going to walk on campus— because I was an early enrollee — the wide receiver coach who recruited me and coached Brandin Cooks took the head-coaching job at San Jose State. He left. I could’ve easily said, “I’m transferring.” My Dad was like, “No, man. You signed up here. Ride it through. Changes happen all the time. It happened to me in the NFL. All the time. Make the most of your situation.” I stayed there. Rode that through. It ended up working out for the better.
And then going into my rookie year, I had to get shoulder surgery and had to fight through that. I knew that had to happen so it wasn’t as hard on me mentally. What was harder was probably my second year and I had a real good camp and I was about to play in my first preseason game and then, literally, on my first catch in the preseason I tore my PCL in my knee. So I got cut because of that and had to be out a couple of months. That was hard because of how long I had been waiting to play and the fact that I was having such a good camp up until that point. I felt like that was the year and it got cut short. And then I had to stick it out the whole year on the practice squad. Rode it out. Worked harder this last offseason that I ever had before. Now, I’m here.
With the transfer portal today, you’re going somewhere else: This is the yellow brick road I had in my mind, I’m out. It is rare to stick with a decision like that now in 2022. With the Bills, there’s got to be some motivation. They saw you. They knew you. And here they are scrambling at wide receiver, bringing Cole Beasley back, bringing John Brown back. Now you go to a team that wants you. As a competitor, I’d imagine there’s some of that to you.
Hodgins: There’s definitely some motivation. It’s kind of both worlds. I knew there was a business side to it. They had to make some moves and they were hoping to sneak me onto the practice squad and then re-sign me to the active. But as you said, they had to make the decision they made. The Giants picked me up. There’s a little bit of motivation there, but it’s nothing insane or too crazy to the point where I’m mad at them or hate them. I understand that it’s business. That’s the profession that we’re in. It can happen to anybody at any given time. There are Pro Bowlers who get cut all the time. Sometimes, you have to roll with the punches, keep your head down and keep working.
Were you worried at all? You have a son. That becomes your whole world. On your Instagram, you’ve said, “This is my motivation. This is my whole world. This is what I’m living for.” I know that feeling having a couple of kids. The dream is in question at that point — what’s even going to happen? That’s a hard place to be mentally.
Hodgins: It definitely was. I think it was harder mentally just because it literally came out of nowhere. I was on the active for five weeks. I was playing my role. Practicing hard. Kind of being that fifth, sixth receiver on gameday, going in when they need me. Literally, out of nowhere I got the phone call: “Hey, come in the building.” I’m like, “Dang.” It came out of nowhere. Part of me sat there and was like, “Dang. How is this going to work? With moving? What are we going to do?” I leaned on my support system: My wife, my family, God. A lot of prayer and a lot of trust just knowing he was going to guide me and take me where he wanted me. Part of what happened that night, I was sitting in my room with my wife (talking to God): “Take us where you want.” Literally, the next day — everything’s down here and it’s like, “Everything sucks. I’m going to go in and sign this practice squad contract.” I start getting a bunch of FaceTime calls from Daboll and Joe Schoen and everyone. They’re like, “We just claimed you. Get on a flight in two hours.” I’m like, “Oh my God. Are you serious?” They said, “Yeah, we’ve got to get your physical done.” It was a roller-coaster of emotions. It was challenging at first and then ended up being a real positive thing.
That was November. Not that long ago. So you were going through these ups and downs with the Bills. You’re practicing. You think you’ll have a role. How does it go down when you get released? Who calls you?
Hodgins: I got a call from the Bills, from the people who handle releases. Paper work. They said, “Brandon Beane wants to meet you in his office.” I met with him and McDermott. They explained everything to me and said they were hoping to get me back, that they just had to make some roster moves with Jordan being hurt at the time. I said, “Alright, I understand.” They said, “We have to wait for the 24 hours from now to see if you got claimed or not. If not, we’ll see you back in the building tomorrow.” For 24 hours, I’m just sitting in the house. Chilling. My wife was at work, so I was just chilling with my son and watching him.
What are those 24 hours really like for you?
Hodgins: Talking to my agent. A lot of thinking. We were talking about possibilities. My son was taking a nap — and it was around 4 o’clock, so he was just about to get up from his nap and I was just at home playing video games. And then my agent texted me. He was like, “Bro! Giants!” I was like, “What? Is he saying, ‘We should go to the Giants?’” A minute after that, that’s when I started getting a bunch of text messages and calls from the whole Giants front office. “Oh my gosh.” Dang. I had to go back into the stadium and drop off the iPad and the playbook and say my goodbyes. Half the players didn’t know. They’re like, “Are you coming back in to sign the practice squad contract?” I’m like, “Nah. The Giants claimed me. I’m leaving tonight.” They’re like, “What! No way!” It was bittersweet because they were excited to see me get an opportunity, see me play. But a lot of them didn’t want me to leave. We’d miss the relationships we had. It was bittersweet for me, too.
That has to be a surreal feeling when you literally hand the iPad back and you’re leaving this place. You’re tight with Isaiah (McKenzie). When you say “goodbye,” is it a warm embrace? Emotional?
Hodgins: You know Isaiah. He tries to hide his emotions. It was funny because that night we were all hanging out. It was me, Isaiah and Zack Moss. Zack already had gotten traded (to the Colts) at that point. He was leaving the next day. So, we were talking about him and his possibilities. And Isaiah likes to joke around, so he’s like, “Yeah, Zack can leave. That’s whatever. But if you leave or get claimed, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to be sick.” I didn’t really think it was going to happen, and then it literally happened. Isaiah was like, “No!” It was a dagger to him. We stay close. We FaceTime all the time. I always talk to him. He talks to me. We always talk about football and what’s happening in our own little worlds.
Where does this go from here? You’re just starting your career. What do you envision? What are you manifesting right now?
Hodgins: Shoot, right now, I’m just trying to finish the season strong, help my team win games and get into these playoffs and do what I can do as a receiver. But I really feel like the sky’s the limit for me. I feel like there’s been so much instilled in me from Buffalo and from all those coaches and players that I have the potential to be a good receiver in this league. I wrote down earlier in my notes thinking I was going to be the fifth or sixth man in Buffalo for the whole year. I wrote down goals for the year: “Get 200 yards and two touchdowns.” I wrote down those goals. I was like, “That would be a good little start.” This year, in just a couple games with the Giants, I’ve already met that stuff.
I wasn’t here for OTAs and camp to do all that and get the chemistry like you said. So, I feel like the sky’s the limit. I have to continue to work hard and stay humble and stay hungry. No matter if it’s a contract or not — whatever it may be — staying in that… I feel the perfect representation is Diggs. Staying in that attack mentality all the time. You see so many receivers in the league who ball out and get paid and, after they get paid, it’s “What happened?” A lot of people play for money and after you get the money, you stop working hard. You’re like, “OK, I’m cool. Whatever.” Diggs? You could give this dude however many millions you want and he’s still like, “I’m going out there to get more. I’m going out there to attack. I’m going to be a Hall of Famer. I’m going to break records. I’m going to leave a legacy.” That’s a mindset I want to take on every single year in the NFL.
What does that look like up close? How crazy is he day to day in that “attack” mode?
Hodgins: It’s crazy, man. Even some of the Giants players ask me: “How is it with Diggs? How is practice?” A lot of people would be the No. 1 wide receiver and not practice that hard. No. He is one of the most competitive dudes. Yelling at practicing. Constantly communicating. Locked into his zone. Winning 1-on-1’s. Practice is a game for him. That’s why he goes out in the game and it’s easy. He does that stuff in practice — consistently. He has inspired me to take practice serious and go hard all the time and set that tone for your team.
You seem like nice a nice guy. A family man. Do you have that Diggs-like anger within that can be unleashed?
Hodgins: That stuff definitely comes out on game day. For sure. Diggs is the same way. He’s a real good dude. You meet him. You talk to him. You see him at an event and he’s real polite. Real good manners. Respectable. He respects everyone — no matter high or low on the totem pole. But once he steps on that field, it’s go time. He’s a whole different guy. Being able to switch that up is good.
You have to be an asshole out there. He’s got that to him. If you’re a receiver, you have to think that way out there.
Hodgins: Yeah, yeah. You’re trying to attack and kill the DB every play. You’re sitting there: “Throw me the ball. Vs. him. He can’t stop me.” You have to have that mentality. If you don’t have that confidence mentality, that’s half the battle.
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