When a person is able to call it a career his or her way, there are no regrets.
Sheldon Hodge is doing just that.
“It all goes back to Starke, Florida. I’d do it all again the same way. I’ve met so many special people who have made my experience enjoyable,” said Hodge, who is retiring from his profession of teaching and coaching after 40 years in the field.
Hodge has spent the last three years roaming the sidelines at Amanda Elzy, building and shaping the Panthers football program into a contender this past season.
Elzy went 9-4 and advanced to the third round of the North 3A playoffs. The Panthers won the Region 3 title with a perfect 4-0 mark.
“I told Coach (Clinton) Gatewood well before the season started that if we could get by Winona, we’d win the district championship. I looked at those teams before the season started. I knew Winona had a good team with good coaches, but I felt like we could hang with them,” Hodge said.
He was so right. In a game that was shifted from a Friday night to a Saturday evening contest because of inclement weather, the two teams put on quite the show. The Panthers prevailed 42-36 as senior tailback Dephabian Fant rushed for 375 yards and six touchdowns on 23 carries.
Hodge compiled a 14-22 overall mark during his three years at Elzy. They were 0-11 in 2017 and 5-7 in 2018, losing in the first round of the playoffs.
“I read something in a pamphlet years ago when I was in Florida making $3,000 a year. It gave a definition of what a winner is and how a person is perceived. Did you fulfill God’s purpose in your life that day. That has stuck with me through the years. I can honestly say that has helped to lighten the burden a little,” the veteran coach added.
Despite the 0-11 campaign his first season, the foundation was being laid by Hodge and his staff.
“We were establishing a philosophy and vision and seeing who wanted to share in that. It’s strange but in 1977, I was part of a team at Florida A&M that went undefeated at 11-0 and was crowned national champion. Forty years later, I was coaching a team that went 0-11,” said Hodge.
In his second year, the kids began to buy into the system and no changes were made to the staff. “It all started to come together,” he said.
“We started 3-0 this past season and then we slipped to 3-3. People were calling for my head, but they didn’t know what we knew. We were working with a new quarterback those three games. Once he got going, we were able to get on a roll. We did some good things at Elzy. I was asked to come back for another season, but I really wanted to step out and leave Coach (Morris) Bush with a good team. The cupboard isn’t going to be bare next season.”
Hodge has been a coach in the Delta region since 1987 when he joined the Mississippi Valley State University staff as an assistant. He remained on staff there until 1998. He coached some nationally-ranked defenses during his tenure in Itta Bena and produced a couple of NFL draft picks as well as a Black College player of the year.
He listed as some of his other highlights while at MVSU was coaching against Hall of Fame coaches Eddie Robinson of Grambling, John Merritt of Tennessee State, Marino Casem of Alcorn State and W.C. Gorden of Jackson State.
“When I first faced Eddie Robinson, I was at Florida A&M as an assistant coach. He was at 299 career wins and when he left Tallahassee that day, he had win No. 300. Years later at Mississippi Valley, we went to Ruston to face Grambling and Coach Robinson had 399 career wins. He got his 400th win that day. But we were able to get him a few years down the line. We held Grambling to six points and beat them 35-6,” he said.
“Coach Robinson came up to me and asked me why my defensive teams always played them so hard, and I told him because you are Eddie Robinson.”
Hodge then joined the Greenwood High School staff as an assistant coach from 1999-2002 under Charles Brady. When Brady departed, Hodge was named head coach, staying in that position from 2003 to 2006. His GHS teams were a combined 9-31, making the playoffs in 2004. He was selected as the Commonwealth’s Coach of the Year that season.
He also coached baseball, track and the ninth-grade boys basketball team during his stay at Greenwood.
He then spent one year at J.Z. George from the 2007-2008 school year, serving as defensive coordinator, head JV coach and assisting with the track team under Heath Dudley.
He left North Carrollton to become the head football coach and athletic director at John F. Kennedy High School in Mound Bayou. He led the Hornets to two region titles and compiled 50 wins from 2008-2015.
He spent a year at Gentry High School as a football consultant, where he met two young coaches named Morris and Lanell Bush. When he became the Panther head man in the spring of 2017, he brought them, along with his longtime sidekick Richard Quon, with him to Amanda Elzy.
“Coach Quon has been a great assistant coach who never worked for me, but always worked with me,” Hodge said. “I have developed some great relationships in 40 years. So many men and women have greatly influenced my career and my life. I’ve had some good coaches from my days at Bradford County High School in Florida to my playing days at Florida A&M. And all the fine coaches I’ve met while I’ve been here in the Delta. It’s been quite a ride.”
Hodge and his wife, Miranda, who is also in the education field, are both retiring and are planning on moving to Columbus, Georgia, to settle down.
“Our plan was to be down there by Christmas of this year, but with the coronavirus, it has delayed our plans. So I guess I’ll be around as a spectator for one more season of football here in Greenwood,” Hodge added.
nContact Calvin Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org.