Blount County football fans who have enjoyed watching Maryville running back Tee Hodge play on Friday nights won’t have to go far to watch him play on Saturdays either.
Hodge, who will be a senior this fall, has given a verbal commitment to play college football for the University of Tennessee. He chose the Vols over at least 20 other Division I schools including Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Michigan and Oregon.
“Any time a local player gets to go play for the University of Tennessee I think that means a lot to young athletes in this area because many of them grow up pulling for the Vols,” Maryville coach Derek Hunt said. “Way more than half of the families in this area are Tennessee fans and so I think it’s definitely a special moment for Maryville High School and Maryville High School football.
“It’s a special moment for Tee Hodge and his family. I think it is a huge get for the University Tennessee.”
Tennessee coaches recruit nationally, but they never gave Hunt the idea that the only reason they want to sign Hodge is because he is a local player with upside. The Vols were one of the first Division I schools to give him a scholarship offer and didn’t feel the need to wait for other power five schools to become interested — something that happens on a regular basis throughout the country.
Hunt said he felt like Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt and his assistants made Hodge a priority for the 2020 recruiting class.
“Whatever they’re allowed to do I think they’ve done as far as number of visits and phone calls,” Hunt said. “You always hear from them. They’re always asking about Tee. Every time you talk to Tee he was talking about being in communication with those guys.”
The Vols were interested in Hodge when he weighed 205 pounds and rated as a 3-star recruit. Hodge has packed on 30 pounds of ‘good weight’ and has increased his speed. He rushed for 805 yards and scored 20 touchdowns last season. Those statistics are likely to increase this fall.
Hunt said Hodge has an incredible combination of size and athleticism.
“He truly has an NFL running back’s body,” Hunt said. “You don’t find many 6-2, 230 pounders everywhere you look. He has an incredible frame and can run fast with that frame. To do all that they look at Tee and they see a kid that can play four quarters of a football game. He can do that because physically he’s able to.”
Hodge is far removed from a broken leg that kept him out of Maryville’s Class 6A state semifinal game against Oakland. Hunt said he was cleared to practice less than two months after the season ended and that he went through spring practice at 100 percent.
A big part of Hodge’s ability to do that, Hunt said, is the mature way in which he takes care of his body. He’ll likely have to keep that up through the fall as the Rebels look to ride him like never before in their quest to win a 17th state championship.
“We’re going to have to (lean on him more than we did last season),” Hunt said. “Any time you have a running back like that in your backfield you’d be crazy not to try to find ways to get him the football. We’re really excited about this season, but Tee specifically, I would expect him to have an incredible senior year.”