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Hodges Moves Easily Into Rugby

December 28, 1989|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Like many current and former Occidental College athletes, David Hodges' seasonal transition proved easy.

As a two-time all-conference linebacker, Hodges had the size, speed and strength necessary to stand out as a wing-forward in rugby, a sport in which Occidental fields a club team each winter.

Rugby's rough physical play without protective padding appealed to Hodges from the moment he put his head down and began pushing in his first scrum four years ago.

About the only thing Hodges detested about the sport was the postmatch camaraderie with opponents--one of rugby's oldest traditions.

"In football, there's always animosity toward the other guys," says Hodges, a three-year starter in football who was named to the Kodak All-American college division team this season. "I still have it toward teams I played against. I never really liked any team or any of the players."

"Then I come to rugby and you've got to shake their (opponents') hands and go have a beer with them.

"I had a little trouble with that at first, but now I like it."

Hodges, a 6-foot-3, 219-pound senior, has become one of the best rugby players in Occidental history.

Last summer he was selected for the Pacific Coact Grizzlies--a regional team that competed in a national tournament in Colorado Springs, Colo. Based on his performance in the Grizzlies' two matches, Hodges was chosen for an All-American team that played against a Canadian national team.

Hodges' success in rugby surprises no one who has played other sports with or against him.

"He's (Hodges) a leader--a great athlete with leverage, agility and aggressiveness," says rugby teammate Greg Garcia, a senior who played offensive line for the football team and throws the javelin in track. "No one can match his ability. He's pretty much in a league of his own."

Occidental, which in a few weeks will celebrate the start of the club's 25th season, competes in the Southern California Rugby Football Union college division, a league made up of teams including Loyola Marymount, Claremont, UC Irvine, Cal Lutheran, UC Riverside, Cal Poly Pomona and USC. Opponents play each other twice during the season and also meet in two or three tournaments that include schools from the University Division. Occidental has never had a losing record.

Hodges came to Occidental from Long Beach Wilson High for the academics and the chance to continue playing football.

"I was thinking about going to UC Santa Barbara, which was starting up a (football) program," Hodges says. "But I came here because they already had a winning tradition."

Hodges, who will graduate this spring with a degree in political science, helped continue the tradition after becoming a full-time starter in his sophomore season. He led Occidental to three Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships, including last season when he was named most valuable defensive player in the conference after the Tigers finished 8-2.

Not surprisingly, one of Hodges' favorite aspects of rugby is the freedom the sport allows him on offense.

"Defensive guys like me love it because you get to touch the ball, run with it, pass it, kick it and score," Hodges says.

Yet Hodges is hopeful that his prowess as a linebacker and recognition as an All-American will spur interest from professional football teams. He already has had one workout with the NFL scouting combine.

"I'm going to put on some weight and get my speed up," Hodges says. "Playing pro football isn't a great possibility, but it's there. Hopefully, I'll get some tryouts this spring."

If not?

"I can always play rugby," he says. "We have guys on our alumni team 60 years old.

"You can always play this game if you want to."

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