Video: Double amputee Damon Hodges takes the field
Prosthetic legs help Liberty defensive end finally get on the field.
No one could blame Damon Hodges
for giving up or giving in. The 16-year-old junior from Liberty (Youngstown, Ohio)
hasn't been dealt many breaks. Right from the get-go.
His twin brother died during a complicated childbirth and two years later Hodges had both legs amputated below the knee. Doctors told his mother that he might never walk again.
If navigating through life with a physical disability wasn't tough enough, Hodges' father and best friend Damon Hodges Sr. was slain four years ago.
But instead of tapping out, Hodges has defied all odds by tapping into his lifelong dream.
"I want to become the first person ever to play in the NFL with prosthetic legs," Hodges said. "My dad always loved football. He wanted me to play just as much as I did. But I was never allowed to play growing up. When he died, I knew I had to pursue my dream of playing football for both of us."
Enter Liberty's head football coach Chet Allen - Hodge's newfound guiding light.
The driven Hodges approached Allen last winter about the possibility of playing football as a sophomore. Allen had never seen a player quite like Hodges in his 20 years of coaching. He could have easily shot the dream down. But Allen, a special education teacher at the school, admired Hodge's resolve and helped him fulfill his goal.
"I couldn't deny the kid," Allen said. "I saw the perseverance and drive to succeed. It was truly mind-blowing."
The 6-foot-3, 160-pound defensive end was academically ineligible last year. But he cracked the books in the offseason to hurdle over another obstacle in his path.
"When my grades were low, I never stopped trying," Hodges said. "I surrounded myself with positivity. I wanted to wear that uniform."
When he stumbled in the hallways during winter workouts (Indiana winters can be brutal outside), Hodges got back up every time - just like he had done his entire life.
Next came the impediment of safety. But Hodges cleared the biggest barrier of them all. In mid-September, the Ohio High School Athletic Association allowed him to participate this year as long as he wore padded prosthetic legs.
Two weeks ago, he proudly prepped for his big moment as a member of the junior varsity squad. He anxiously sat up on a table while team trainers strapped a half-inch padding around his prosthetics.
The stage was set. And Hodges dazzled, recording four tackles and a sack in a 32-26 loss to Brookfield - in the first football game of his life. Storybook.
"I was so exhilarated and proud," Allen said. "He was chasing down everyone. It was amazing to see. I knew good things were to come with his hard work."
His resolve was tested again the next week, though. Hodge's left prosthetic leg broke and he was forced to leave the game.
"I'm far from being done," Hodges said. "I plan to return in two weeks."
He's certainly making a positive impression on many of the people around him at Liberty High.
"You can't have a bad day when you look at him," Allen said. "Football is all he has. He's the same as everybody else, he just doesn't have ankles. He's a little kid at heart and a jokester. The guy has just never quit."
Hodges knows no limitations.
"I'm doing everything in my life that they all told me I wouldn't do," Hodges said. "It's never bothered me. There's nothing I can't do."