DETROIT - Calder Hodge had no idea what to expect as he stood on the sideline at Ford Field before the Lions’ intrasquad scrimmage Friday.
First, Marvin Jones asked Hodge to throw him a few warmup passes. Then, Matthew Stafford called him onto the field to run a play.
A 14-year-old double-amputee quarterback from Magnolia, Texas, Hodge was born with fibular hemimelia, a birth defect that left him without tibia bones in both of his legs.
Hodge had his legs amputated when he was 2½ years old and underwent reconstructive surgery on both thumbs, but won an honorary ESPY award earlier this year for being an inspirational athlete.
Hodge, who wears prosthetics on both of his legs, said his dream is to win a Super Bowl and maybe make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and on Friday he got to throw his first touchdown pass in an NFL stadium, thanks to a partnership with the Lions and FieldTurf, the company that installed the new turf at Ford Field this spring.
At the start of practice Friday, the Lions lined up for a play from the 6-yard line.
Hodge took a shotgun snap from Frank Ragnow, Jones ran a fade route in the left corner of the end zone, and Hodge threw a perfect spiral for an easy touchdown.
Lions players mobbed Hodge after the play, and Hodge spent the rest of practice watching from the Lions bench.
“It’s crazy,” a beaming Hodge said after his touchdown pass. “I mean, it’s a lifelong dream for me to play in the NFL so it was just an amazing experience to be able to go out there and throw to one of the best receivers in the league.”
Lions coach Matt Patricia shared Hodge’s story with his team during a meeting before practice, and Hodge spent the day as an honorary member of the team.
He and his family got a private tour of Ford Field early Friday, he had his own personalized stall – complete with a No. 9 jersey with his name on the back – inside the home locker room at Ford Field, and he spent a good chunk of the practice talking with wide receiver Danny Amendola on the Lions bench.
"It’s really cool," Stafford said. "It’s one of the best parts about this job is really getting inspired by kids like him. (Calder’s) a heck of a kid and that’s a heck of a story. An incredible story. Great throw. Marv went up and got it for him. I was fired up. I let him wear my helmet. Saw him on the sideline, I was like, 'All right, tell me what you think the play’s called?' And he was trying to say it back to me. It was cool. A lot of fun."
Hodge, who attends Legacy The School of Sport Sciences, where he said former Lions linebacker Reggie Brown works, started playing football as a 7-year-old in an effort to keep up with his three older brothers, Blake, Sheldon and Tyler.
Hodge's mother, Kayla, said Hodge played three years of flag football before she let him join a tackle league as a 10-year-old, and played baseball as a youth as well.
“For him, something that he has said a couple of times in the recent past is that (football is) his place to be normal, it’s his place to be an equal to the other kids that are playing," Kayla Hodge said. "As he goes out onto the field, you might look at him and think he’s not going to be able to play football, but as soon as he throws the ball everybody knows that he’s a serious player, that he’s going to do exactly what they’re going to do and he’s going to put as much effort into the game as they do. And so he quickly becomes an equal on the field, and that’s something that’s really important to him is to be seen as an equal to everybody else."
Hodge said he didn't see the field much in junior high, but he expects to compete for the starting job when his high school team begins practice next week.
He said he can throw the ball 35 or 40 yards in the air, and he can run faster than Tom Brady.
"You can quote me as saying that," he said.
As for Friday's experience, Hodge called it "very emotional" and said he "almost cried" when Stafford summoned him out on the field.
Football, he said, is "the greatest time of my life," and Friday's experience was a dream.
"My ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl and to win many more after that and maybe get put in the Hall of Fame just because," Hodge said. "But my main goal and my absolute goal in life is to inspire people."
On Friday, he did that.
Updated 3:56 AM EST Dec 15, 2019