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No Place Like Home for Hodge

September 22, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The members of the Robert Hodge fan club could have met in a closet last week.

Make room for company.

Hodge, the Colorado quarterback who had such a disastrous debut against USC, walked off the Rose Bowl field a winner against UCLA on Saturday.

But before he could reach the tunnel, some buddies from Manhattan Beach Mira Costa High hailed him from the front row, kissing his head when he reached the stands.

"We knew you could do it," they told him.

"We knew he'd come through," said Mustafa Pourtemour, 21, a former Mira Costa teammate.

That's saying something, because Hodge--pressed into action because of a career-threatening concussion suffered by starter Craig Ochs--completed only one of nine passes in a 40-3 loss to the Trojans in which Colorado gained a mere 61 yards.

You could see Hodge's confidence grow against the Bruins, from shaky beginnings to those quick rollouts in the second half--and particularly on the two-point conversion pass in the third quarter that looked crucial then but proved to be no issue in Colorado's 31-17 runaway.

Hodge completed 11 of 22 passes for 117 yards, and provided just enough of a threat as a passer and runner to open up the run for Chris Brown, who rushed for 188 yards and three touchdowns.

"That's how we knew he could play," said Vince Carino, 22, another high school teammate of Hodge. "He was a little shy last week and unsure of himself. He's a good player. He was a good player in high school and a good player at El Camino [College]."

Hodge isn't just another local guy USC and UCLA didn't recruit.

Nobody recruited him out of high school.

But after a standout career at El Camino, he landed at Colorado, playing mostly on special teams last season and attempting only three passes, completing one.

Now he's Colorado's starter indefinitely--and he and the Buffaloes might have turned around what was becoming a disastrous start.

"I mean, it wasn't a pretty game for me, but we got it done," Hodge said.

Well put.

"The education of Robert Hodge?" Colorado Coach Gary Barnett said. "There's always a big difference between your first game and your second game.

"I challenged Robert that his grace period was over and he now needed to be a quarterback in this league and be the guy that when he stepped in the huddle, everybody needed to do what he told them to do. He made some plays out there and got his confidence and everybody got confidence in him."

Hodge was on the other end of one of the biggest pass plays of the game, when he threw a lateral to Barry Kunkel in the third quarter and Kunkel passed the ball back to Hodge, who made a nifty move for a 29-yard gain to the UCLA 12.

That set up the touchdown and two-point conversion that gave Colorado a 21-7 lead--the moment it started to look as if Colorado would win.

"You've got to give Robert Hodge a lot of credit, because for a while it looked like he was going to play the way he did last week," Barnett said. "He just picked his game up."

Hodge completed only one of six passes in the first quarter and was sacked twice, but after that he began to find his way.

"A lot of people doubted him," center Wayne Lucier said. "The receivers made some plays, and they gave him confidence. He did great from the second quarter on."

For Hodge, it couldn't have happened at a better time. Or a better place.

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