By Robert Wilson
Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow gave one of the most famous and passionate postgame speeches in college football history in 2008 after Ole Miss upset then No. 4 ranked Florida 31-30 in Gainesville. It was Florida’s first loss that season and Tebow and Gators fulfilled the star quarterback’s promise and went on to get undefeated the rest of the season and win the national championship.
The player who scored the winning touchdown for Ole Miss and caused Tebow’s emotional speech is now a Jackson Academy assistant football coach.
Former Morton High, Ole Miss and NFL wide receiver Shay Hodge is in his first year as JA’s wide receiver and defensive backs coach. Hodge caught an 86-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to give Ole Miss the winning score in the historic win over Florida. It’s experiences like that Hodge can share with the JA players to help them win more games this season and gain confidence.
Hodge, 34, is going to help first-year JA head coach Aubrey Blackwell, who was hired to replace Lance Pogue, who resigned and is now head coach at Heritage Academy.
Hodge has high school coaching experience as an offensive coordinator for one season at Provine High and as head coach for one season at Hillcrest Christian. Hodge took over a program at Hillcrest, which had lost 24 games in a row, going into the 2019 season. He guided the Cougars to a win in their sixth game that season to end the longest losing streak in Mississippi.
Hodge was one of Mississippi’s top two sport athletes at Morton High (he caught 49 passes for 1,100 yards and 23 TDs in football and averaged 25 points in basketball as senior in 2005-2006 school year). Then, he became one of the top receivers in the SEC at Ole Miss. Hodge also played at the next level, in the NFL, the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League. After finishing his pro career, he came back to Morton and was a volunteer assistant and helped develop Division I recruits DD Bowie of Morton and Diwun Black of Forest.
Hodge has worked with many high school, college, and pro athletes from around the South when he was with DI Jackson sports training for several years and recently with his own company.
Hodge had been working with some of the JA athletes for the past year and half. Jimmy Messer, JA’s associate head of school of student life who was hired earlier this spring and oversees the athletic department, heard about Hodge’s experience and expertise with high school athletes.
“Jimmy Messer told me how much of a good reputation I have with the JA family and the pedigree of a really good coach in the making,” Hodge said. “I met the head coach (Blackwell) and our moral and values agreed so it seems like a perfect fit. My college and pro experiences will help me tremendously as it has throughout my coaching and training career. I’ve been around a lot, seen a lot, and steadily growing and learning more from my college mentors. It is only going to make me better to help on the high school level.”
“We are excited to add Shay Hodge to our staff,” Messer said. “His experience as an All-SEC wide receiver at Ole Miss will be something our players will benefit from. He has trained many of the best players in this area and is very well respected as a coach and a person. We feel that Coach Hodge fits our mission of coaching the whole student athlete and we are pumped to have him as part of the JA family.”
“Our mission moving forward in Jackson Academy’s football program is to develop young men at a high level in more ways than just football,” said Blackwell, an Alabama native who came to JA after 12 years as a high school coach in Alabama, the last seven as a head coach. “Coach Hodge is going to a critical part of that process. I have a passionate and motivated staff and Coach Hodge checks all the boxes of the direction JA football is going. His experience and love for developing young athletes is going to make our program better every day. Our young men will have an opportunity to work every day with a coach who has achieved the goals they dream about and who fully understands what it will take. As the head coach, I also look forward to helping Coach Hodge grow and develop in his own career to help prepare him for the future God has planned for him. It’s a new day at JA and we’re excited about the future of Raider football.
“Coach Hodge will make an immediate impact helping our recruitable athletes prepare for their summer camps and recruiting. His intensity will be an awesome addition to a staff that I am really excited about. We will be able to give our student athletes the energy, focus and technical teaching they will need to be successful on Friday nights.”
“Being able to play under someone like Coach Hodge is a great opportunity,” said JA rising senior Merritt Nations, who is top returning receiver after catching 32 passes for 629 yards and six TDs last season. “He played the game at a high level and his coaching and teaching skills are incredible. We are very fortunate to be able to have someone of that level helping lead our offense for JA football.”
“I feel Coach Hodge will bring different teaching and training styles and also have a fun and loving environment,” JA rising sophomore wide receiver Sammie Watkins said. “With his knowledge, experience, background, and drive, I feel Coach Hodge has the ability to take us to the next level. Coach Hodge is all about his players individually and wants what is best for them. He goes the extra mile for them, and he has the ability to relate to the younger athletes. These qualities will allow him to be well loved and appreciated. Coach Hodge will be a great asset to the JA family.”
JA returns 9 starters (five on offense and four on defense) from last year’s team, which finished 8-4 and reached the MAIS Class 6A semifinals. The Raiders return three of their top four receivers, Nations, rising senior Thomas Antici and rising junior CJ Banks, who combined for 62 catches for 951 yards and eight TDs last season.
JA opens the season Aug. 19 at Class 5A Starkville Academy. JA defeated Starkville 37-0 last season.