Penn State's defense will be anchored on one side by the return of senior outside linebacker Gerald Hodges. Hodges is coming off a solid junior campaign and should be ready to roll in 2012 for one more go-around. Hodges has gained the respect of the entire Big Ten conference, and his name is becoming more feared by opposing fans as he becomes more of a presence on Penn State's defense.
Let's take a look back at Hodges' career to this point.
Gerald Hodges played high school football in New Jersey for Paulsboro High School, winning two South Jersey Group I championships and four Colonial Conference Patriot Division titles.
There, he played safety and quarterback in addition to returning kicks. The First Team All-South Jersey and first-team all-conference player in his junior and senior seasons was also a team captain and a consensus 4-star recruit.
Hodges was also a captain for the school's wrestling and track and field teams and finished third in the state in wrestling with a 40-1 record.
Gerald Hodges played in every game his freshman season at Penn State (2009), playing defense and special teams. Hodges started the season playing safety but soon made the full-time transition to linebacker following some injuries to Penn State's signature defensive position.
Hodges was one of eight true freshmen to play for Penn State that season, and he enrolled early in January.
In his sophomore season, Gerald Hodges was expected to become more of a role player for Penn State's defense and special teams, but an early-season injury took him off the field for about half of the season.
Hodges suffered a broken left leg in the opening kickoff at a game at top-ranked Alabama in Week 2 of the 2010 season. An illegal block put Hodges on crutches with a boot around his leg.
It was entirely possible Hodges would see his 2010 season ended because of a broken leg injury early in the season, but Hodges worked his way back on to the field after missing just four games.
He returned to the team in October when the Nittany Lions traveled to Minnesota, making a couple of tackles and he added a few more tackles the following week at home against Michigan. He got stronger as the season wound down, recording at least four tackles in the final three games of the season.
Gerald Hodges played in all 13 games for Penn State last season, recording a team-leading total of 106 tackles, including 60 solo tackles and averaging 8.15 tackles per game. He also returned his one interception for 63 yards. Hodges also recorded 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
As Hodges was a stable defensive player for Penn State, he earned conference-wide respect from coaches and the media. Hodges was named First-Team All-Big Ten at linebacker, joining defensive tackle Devon Still by the coaches in the Big Ten.
The media placed Hodges on the second team of their All-Big Ten team, with Wisconsin's Chris Borland taking his place on the media first-team.
After putting together a solid season for Penn State in his junior season of 2011, Hodges flirted with a potential entry in to the NFL Draft for 2012. A number of draft scouts seemed to be high on Hodges, but after evaluating things a little deeper, it was not likely that Hodges would be drafted high enough to take the risk.
Instead, Hodges decided to return for one more season, which could see his draft stock rise with another fine season of work.
Stats provided by CFBStats.com unless noted otherwise.
Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and add him to your Google+ circle.