The ride of a lifetime: Devlin 'Duck' Hodges

To say the past 10 months have been a roller coaster ride for Devlin Hodges might be one of the biggest understatements ever.

He experienced sudden ups and downs, went through loops and twists and raced through a track at a high rate of speed more than any player in the NFL this year.

And he did it all without blinking, without screaming let me off this ride, and without ever losing confidence that he could make it through the crazy ride he was on.

He arrived in Pittsburgh in May simply as Devlin Hodges , an undrafted rookie from Samford, coming to the Steelers for the team's rookie minicamp strictly on a tryout basis, nothing guaranteed. After a nice showing during the three-day minicamp, he was inked to a contract, and the ride officially began.

"I think when I got signed, I was kind of starstruck," said Hodges. "I wasn't intimidated or anything, I just think more starstruck. I was going to be in the room with Ben. On the field with JuJu (Smith-Schuster) and James Conner, guys who are some of the biggest idols in the sport.

"After a week or two it was just like okay, they are normal. It was more being starstruck than any pressure or anything like that. It was just an awesome and cool thing to have happen."

When the Steelers got to Saint Vincent College for training camp, Hodges opened a lot of eyes. Mainly those of his defensive teammates. They saw more than they expected from the young quarterback and were impressed with what he brought to the offense.

"I wanted to go out there each day and have fun and enjoy it," said Hodges. "I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what day would be my last. I just took it in and enjoyed the process. I always knew I could compete, and I was good enough to play in this league. That is what I wanted to go out there and prove."

While he opened eyes, when it was time for the final roster cuts Hodges got caught in the numbers game. The Steelers had Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs on the roster, so Hodges was released on Aug. 31 and headed back home to Alabama.

"Honestly it sucked. It wasn't fun," said Hodges of getting cut. "I was back home for a week, not sure what I was going to do. I had the XFL call and the New York Jets call for a tryout. I had some other opportunities, but it was crazy."

Then something unexpected happened. The Steelers traded Joshua Dobbs to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 9 and on Sept. 10 signed Hodges to the practice squad.

"The other opportunities with the XFL and Jets came within a day and then the Steelers called and said we want to sign you back and I was like okay, let's go," said Hodges. "The first few days sucked. I was like what am I going to do. I didn't have a plan honestly. I knew this is what I could do, and this is what I wanted to do.

"I was driving to the airport to go to a tryout for the Jets when the Steelers called. Before I even hung up, I was turning around because I was familiar with this team, this organization, the way they do things. I was excited to come back here."

As if things weren't crazy enough, six days after being signed to the practice squad he was promoted to the active roster when Roethlisberger was placed on the Reserve/Injured list, ending his season.

And we all know what happened next. Mason Rudolph was injured in the Week 5 game vs. Baltimore and Hodges stepped in for him, and then went on to start the next game against the Los Angeles Chargers, winning his first NFL start.

He was no longer Devlin Hodges, undrafted rookie free agent. Instead he was better known to Steelers Nation as Duck Hodges, the rookie quarterback with country swagger who captivated fans with his fun approach and ability to step up.

There were so many twists still to come. Rudolph started the next four games but suffered a concussion at the end of the Browns game on Nov. 14. Rudolph remained the starter the following week against Cincinnati, but after being ineffective was pulled and Hodges stepped in in the third quarter and led the Steelers to a win. Hodges started the next two games, both wins over the Browns and Cardinals, and Duck Mania went crazy.

But the ride wasn't a smooth one. Hodges started in the loss to the Bills and then was pulled from his start against the Jets when he was ineffective, replaced by Rudolph. But when Rudolph was injured in the second half, Hodges went back in but couldn't pull out the win. He started the following week against the Ravens, losing his third game of the season as the Steelers came up short of making the playoffs.

It was a true roller coaster ride, one that was far from smooth, far from perfect. But it was still more than he could imagine when he first walked in the doors at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex last May.

"I could always imagine I would be playing in the NFL, but this quick, and how it happened. I couldn't imagine it," said Hodges in his Alabama drawl that lets you know he is as down-home and real as they come. "It's definitely a blessing being able to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most historic franchises in the NFL. We had so much fun. Not the way we wanted it to end, but don't think I would trade this first year or group of guys for anything.

"It was so much fun, such a blessing. It makes me so excited for the future."