It took a year longer than expected, but Texas Longhorns junior offensive guard Brandon Hodges finally looks poised for the impactful season that never happened in 2015, when he redshirted under former offensive line coach Joe Wickline.
Hodges arrived in Austin in January of 2015 as an early enrollee burdened by significant expectations -- after fielding some of the worst left tackle play in the country in 2014, Wickline needed a player who could have an immediate impact. Many felt that Hodges was the answer.
As it turned out, that player was former consensus three-star prospect Connor Williams, who emerged as a freshman All-American. Meanwhile, Hodges was never able to break into the rotation out of East Mississippi CC and ended up redshirting.
"Well, last year he was trying to just learn it, and now that what he's done is that he's taken ownership," head coach Charlie Strong said this spring.
Arriving as a junior college player is often difficult -- there are the expectations of making an early impact, the pressure to do so because of limited eligibility, and the need to transition to a more demanding academic schedule. All of those factors contributed to Hodges needing some time to find himself in Austin.
"He's really taking ownership for himself and it's really becoming the player and the person we thought he could be," Strong said. "When he came in last season it was just a learning curve for him where he was really just trying to get his feet in the ground and just with academics and then with the football side of it."
So Hodges spent the season ensuring that those academics were in order, learning under Wickline, and waiting for his moment. With the graduation of left guard Sedrick Flowers, new offensive line coach Matt Mattox had to find a replacement and didn't have a lot of options after the Longhorns avoided getting deep into the bench along the offensive line last season.
As a result, the EMCC product didn't have to beat out any truly established players to earn a spot with the first-team offensive line this spring, aided by a fresh outlook and increase in energy.
"Now he's been here, and the thing about him is that he works and he wants to be good," Strong said. "So now his whole attitude has changed. You see him when he comes out to practice and he has a lot of energy to him and now you're beginning to see that passion he has for the game."
It's not just Strong, either -- senior offensive tackle Kent Perkins has seen the same thing from the 6'4, 308-pounder.
"Brandon has been working hard," Perkins said. "I have a real close personal connection with him. We are real close. He's a hard worker. I'm excited. He's ready to show what he can do."
So far, Perkins said that the transition from Mattox to Wickline has been an easy one for the players, who often struggled to connect with their surly former position coach. Forging a bond with the younger, more personal Mattox is a much easier task.
"I love Coach Mattox," Perkins said. "He's cool. He's a player's coach. We already have a strong bond with Coach. We all want to play hard for Coach. He's a great coach."
He also appears to be the coach who is poised to unlock the potential in Hodges that made him a four-star prospect by Scout by the time he enrolled at Texas.