HOUSTON - Calder Hodge already has one big advantage over all of his other competitors on the football field.
There is no chance he’ll ever suffer season- or career-ending injuries to his knee, ankle or foot.
“If I break my knee, then I overnight a replacement,” Hodge said.
That isn’t the only edge Hodge possesses.
Determination and leadership are just a couple of others he has in excess supply -- traits he has developed while dealing with an unfortunate hand he was dealt the minute he was born.
All Kayla Hodge wanted to do was hold her baby.
Calder marked her first pregnancy, and following a cesarean section, she delivered him in 2006.
But Kayla still hadn’t been able to hold Calder after he was born, and then she noticed doctors taking her husband, Mike, out to the hallway to have a conversation.
“They took my husband out into the hallway without letting me see him and started telling my husband all of these things,” she said. “They unwrapped and were like, ‘There’s something wrong. We don’t know what it is.’”
It didn’t take long for the Hodges to find out what the problem was, and for their world to be turned upside-down.
Calder was born with leg deformities, something that wasn’t detected when Kayla was pregnant.
When Calder was 2, the decision was made to have both of his legs amputated.
As heart-wrenching as that was, it actually brought some relief and closure for the family.
“I would say that there wasn’t any big fear at that moment in time,” Kayla said. “I would say it was more when he was born and the unknown -- not knowing what was going to happen. By the time we got to amputations, we were like, ‘That’s going to be the answer to our prayers. He’s going to be able to do so much more.’”
Not being stopped
As he’s aged, Calder has been anything but a normal kid — in a good way. His disability hasn’t held him back. Instead, he’s climbed higher than anyone could have imagined.
Calder started getting into sports because his three older stepbrothers were active in baseball and football, and there were plenty of backyard battles with his siblings, despite the fact he was running around with prosthetic legs.
It certainly didn’t stop him from taking a liking to football, for one main reason.
“I got to hit people and not get in trouble,” he said.
Now exclusively a quarterback, Calder gets hit often, but understands that's part of the deal and something he’ll happily handle as he pursues his football dreams.
The short-term goal is to become the starting quarterback of his high school football team when he starts ninth grade in the fall.
His long-term goals are to play college football and to become the first double amputee to play in the NFL.
Make no mistake, Calder is serious about these goals and working toward them full-steam ahead.
He throws to receivers for 30 minutes every day after school, and once a week, he works with a football trainer who specializes in enhancing footwork.
Calder has not only worked to get his footwork to where it needs to be in order to play competitive football, but he is also honing his arm strength and intelligence.
“You can beat a defense by reading them,” Calder said. "You can’t beat a defense with just your arm if you don’t know what they are going to do presnap and postsnap.”
But while Calder is pursuing dreams on the football field, he is equally chasing others off it.
Desire to be 'a great man'
Calder said he has two notable role models in his life, mainly because of what they have overcome to play football.
One is current NFL quarterback Case Keenum, who Calder saw a lot when Keenum played at the University of Houston.
Calder is inspired by Keenum because he went through two major knee surgeries and still managed to carve out an NFL career.
“He’s proved them wrong so many times,” Calder said. “I love that about him and drew that connection.”
The other is former Montana State football player Koni Doyle, who managed to play college football despite having his right leg amputated below the knee following an injury he suffered as a high school junior in 2012.
“Even now that he is done with football, we still keep in touch and he lets me know some things I need to know about college football, since he made it that far with just one leg,” Calder said. “He’s been a very big mentor to me.”
Calder said Doyle became a mentor to him after they met at a camp with NubAbility Athletics, where the mission is to "encourage, inspire, and instruct limb different youth (congenital or are traumatic amputees) by getting them out of the stands, off the bench and into mainstream sports."
Having been mentored at such camps, Calder said he ultimately wants things to come full circle and be the one to mentor younger kids and serve as a source of inspiration to others that they can overcome --no matter what obstacles come their way.
“That’s the neatest thing with being able to talk to media and getting his story out there,” Kayla said. “We are finding other kids who have never known they could participate in this. They just assume because they are not the same as everybody else, that they are not able to do that.”
When he’s done playing organized football, Calder said he wants to go into coaching or broadcasting.
No matter what field he chooses, Calder knows exactly what he wants to be known for.
“A great man,” he said. “Not a great football player. Not the great broadcaster, if that is what I end up being. I just want to be known as a great man that you can always put your trust into and know that he is there for you.”
Graham Media Group 2019