Jordan Hodge knew he was going to have his work cut out for him.
In taking over as the starting quarterback at Socastee, the senior was asked to replace one of the most successful athletes to ever come through the school. Hunter Renfrow broke records and led the Braves to consecutive 12-1 seasons – the two best finishes in Socastee history.
Hodge and Renfrow look different, and they have unique approaches to the position. But so far, Hodge’s style has come with similar results.
Despite a move back to Class AAAA and the departures of Renfrow and several other standouts, Socastee has an opportunity to move to 4-0 on Friday when it heads on the road to face longtime rival Myrtle Beach.
“We’re a group of kids who know how to win,” Hodge said. “More than knowing how to win, we hate to lose. We’ve been slow with the changes. We’re still trying to learn them. But we know what we know. And we’re getting what we’re learning. We still know how to win.”
The Braves have done that, defeating West Brunswick, Southeast Raleigh and Conway to open the year. However, beating the 2-0 Seahawks – the defending Class AAA state champs – would be the team’s biggest non-region win of the year.
Gone are the days when Socastee was considered another tune-up game for Myrtle Beach. Hodge is a firm believer in that it all doesn’t fall on his shoulders; he doesn’t play defense or special teams, and he’s not blocking. However, unlike his teammates, none of them had to step into Renfrow’s shoes.
For Hodge, that has meant increased visibility for one of the smallest starting quarterbacks in the state. Of the 52 South Carolina Class AAAA schools, only Clover and Irmo start quarterbacks measuring in below Hodge’s 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame. (Northwestern is also experimenting with 5-foot-8 Dupree Hart, who was flirting with national receiving records heading into this year.)
Hodge, who said he “got serious” about the weight room after wrestling season, has actually gained nearly 30 pounds in about six months. Last Winter, he finished third in the state in the 132-pound weight class.
The gains were as much to help with his durability on the football field as anything else. They have by no means eliminated the disparity, and his lack of size still shows. During Tuesday’s practice, for instance, he felt the brunt of 6-foot, 220-pound fullback Angelo Sauter while installing a new play. Sauter and Hodge got their signals mixed, and there wasn’t much debate who was still standing.
“I’ve been the smallest my whole life,” said Hodge, who weighed north of 11 pounds at birth before getting lapped by most of his football brethren. “I finally grew some a little this year and it still doesn’t look like I grew at all. I know how to play being the smallest. I know what it takes. I’m used to it.”
Hodge took his share of big hits during the fourth quarters of games last year after some of the Braves’ leads got out of hand. So he’s not stranger to running the offense.
In fact, like Hunter and Jordan Renfrow before him, it’s sort of in his blood.
Coordinator Steve Hodge, Jordan’s father, got to the school two years before Jordan was born. He helped shift the program to the triple option briefly under former head coaches Steve Duggan and Burney Bourne before it really started to take shape under Tim Renfrow.
He remembers youth camps when the three aforementioned quarterbacks were under the age of 8. After each day’s sessions, scrimmages would break out, and the three players and others already understood that passing was secondary at Socastee.
“They’re setting up to run the option, and it was touch football,” Steve Hodge said. “… We all sat back and were thinking ‘They’re running the option.’”
Under second-year coach Doug Illing, the system has evolved again.
Illing, who ran mostly spread offenses in North Carolina, has combined the two schemes, with the quarterback often backing off center and taking snaps in a shotgun. Much like early last season, when Hunter Renfrow was still learning to execute the hybrid approach, the Braves have had some early troubles with turnovers. Socastee has four fumbles to go along with four Hodge interceptions.
Illing said the early snags change nothing.
“I’m not scared of him at all throwing the football,” Illing said. “He’s going to make good decisions. He’s going to throw the ball where we need him to throw it. He just needs to do it more in games.”
Getting more passing yards under his belt is another way he can distinguish himself from his predecessor.
He may not provide the shot of adrenaline Renfrow did during his two-plus seasons as the starter. That doesn’t mean he isn’t effective.
Hodge had his best game to date last week when he ran for 110 yards and threw for another 89 against Conway. He’s currently seventh in the area in passing and eighth in rushing.
Numbers like those come via a different style than the freelance-happy Renfrow.
“He reads it better than Hunter,” Steve Hodge said. “The difference is when Hunter decided to disconnect and go, he would go. … Hunter’s a better [athlete]. There’s no question in my mind. Jordan has done a pretty good job of knowing his limitations.”
Following his lead, the coaching staff has gone back to a 3.5-yard per rush mentality when it is in triple-option mode. The Braves are grinding out short-yardage plays and time off the clock.
A little less productive when it comes to scoring? Sure.
But the approach is working so far for not only Socastee, but also its new starting quarterback.
“I’ve tried to put in the work so it’s not all jumbled up on me and weighed me down,” Hodge said. “I’ve done my part to make sure that doesn’t happen.”