A former Terry Fox Ravens soccer player is finding success at university with his feet — kicking a football.
Dawson Hodge is leading the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks in scoring and he’s one of only three kickers in U Sports who’s been successful at all of his field goal attempts this season.
Not bad for a lifelong soccer player who first pulled on a football helmet and shoulder pads in his senior year of high school. And then only after he was coaxed by his twin brother, Brandon.
But after a few good practice kicks Dawson tried out and made the Ravens football team, helping Terry Fox reach the semi-finals of the 2018 Subway Bowl provincial championships, where they were defeated by the New Westminster Hyacks, 33-0.
Sitting in the locker room at BC Place afterward, Hodge said he realized he didn’t want his brief dalliance with football to be over.
As it happens, former BC Lions kicker Lui Passaglia is a neighbour. Hodge worked with him to find his form, then headed to a high performance kicking camp in the United States to refine it. He won the field goal competition there, and finished second in kick-offs among some of the best high school kickers in America.
“This motivated me to pursue football and master the craft of kicking,” Hodge said.
Looking to gain more experience before taking a run at possibly being recruited by a post-secondary program, Hodge enrolled in an additional year of high school at a football academy in Toronto that plays exclusively against top American teams.
“They were really good teams, full of college prospects, so the tough competition made us better,” Hodge said, adding the experience of playing under the lights on Friday nights in packed little stadiums south of the border was enthralling.
The seasoning of his game paid off. A half dozen Ontario universities plus Simon Fraser University in Burnaby enquired about joining their programs.
After touring each, Hodge said he was attracted to Wilfrid Laurier in Waterloo that’s produced kickers who’ve gone on to play in the Canadian Football League in the past, including Ronnie Pfeffer, who won Grey Cups with the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks and currently plays for the Calgary Stampeders.
“I knew the team would utilize the kicking game,” Hodge said. “If I could prove myself, I’d have a good chance to be a starter in my rookie year.”
Alas, the COVID-19 pandemic kicked that dream to the curb. Students were advised to stay home, taking courses remotely. U Sports cancelled the football season.
Instead of lifting punts into the crisp fall Ontario air, Hodge worked out in a gym his parents set up in the garage of their Coquitlam home and studied Geography on his computer. Twice a week he ventured over to Town Centre Stadium to boot balls through the uprights, recording his workouts for online reviews with his coach in Waterloo, Darcy Segin.
Still, Hodge said, staying sharp was a challenge.
“The best way to stay motivated was being optimistic,” he said. “Knowing that one day we will get back out on the field encouraged me to keep kicking and working out.”
Finally, on Sept. 18, Hodge pulled on the Golden Hawks’ purple and gold uniform for the first time. He kicked four field goals and converted three touchdowns to lead Laurier to a 37-6 win over York University.
“It was a great game, a good start to the 2021 season,” Hodge said.
And while the Golden Hawks lost its next two games, Hodge’s foot has been sharp. Heading into Saturday’s game against the reigning Ontario champion McMaster Marauders, he’s connected on all seven of his field goal attempts, converted five touchdowns and kicked three singles for 29 points. His longest kickoff sailed 75 yards and his best punt went 59 yards.
Hodge said his soccer background has helped.
“It gave me a good foundation to start with.”
Still, he added, he misses the beautiful game and the buddies he played with on club teams and the Ravens.
But Hodge has different goals now, that don’t involve bulging the net behind a keeper.
“I really want to win a Vanier Cup, so helping the team make the playoffs is the first step.”