Jasper Sanks was supposed to be the one playing in a Super Bowl, not Roderick Hood.
But when the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Arizona Cardinals today in the Super Bowl, Hood will be in the starting lineup for the NFC champions. Sanks will be in his Houston home watching.
“I won’t be pulling for the Cardinals,” Sanks said, laughing. “But I’ll be pulling for Roderick.”
Sanks is enjoying success at a Cadillac dealership and is finishing work on a college degree in management. He hopes to one day be a coach.
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A Parade All-America running back at Carver High, Sanks had as many stars by his name as they allow a recruit. He was considered the best at his position in Georgia and possibly in the country. He was big. He was fast.
Roderick Hood also was fast, but he was small. For two years at Carver he played running back behind the older Sanks. Injuries allowed him little playing time the next year. As a senior quarterback he passed for 1,200 yards and ran for 900, but few colleges noticed.
Sanks chose the University of Georgia over a plethora of Division I invites. When Hood’s time came for college, he had only a nibble from two smaller schools, West Georgia and Alabama A&M, and only the latter was for a full ride.
While Sanks had some success at Georgia, such as leading the team in rushing with 896 yards his sophomore year, his career faltered and ended with a dismissal.
“I made mistakes,” he said. “I’m a better person for them. God makes no mistakes.”
Encouraged by then-new coach Tommy Tuberville, Hood walked on at Auburn and became a star as a defensive back and kick returner.
He wasn’t enough of a star to be drafted by an NFL team, though. He walked on with the Philadelphia Eagles — the team Arizona beat to make it to tonight’s game. He made a name for himself playing in his first Super Bowl in 2004.
“Things came too easy for me,” Sanks said. “Roderick had to really work to reach his dream of playing in the NFL. He stayed focused.”
The two have remained close. He said Hood always has been like a little brother.
When Sanks’ brother Jarvis was slain last year, “Roderick was the first one to step up for me.”
While Hood is bigger than in his college days, Sanks and other friends say the size of his ego has remained the same.
“When we played together, he used to talk trash,” said Hood’s cousin Rodregus Hood, a programmer at TSYS. “He would really brag a little like his idol Deion Sanders. He’s actually more humble now. He has always been competitive and loves to win.”
The cousin said Hood owes much of his success to parents Lamar and Patricia Hood.
“He was raised right in a religious home,” Rodregus Hood said. “There was no smoking, no drinking, no bad influences.“
Ryan Davis, a former Georgia player, played football with the NFL star at Carver and in his front yard. Davis is now a coach and teacher at Woodward Academy in College Park, Ga.
“Roderick was always doing the extra stuff to get ahead,” Davis said. “He did weights after practice. He worked out with the track team. Good things happen to people who do things right.”
Davis agreed stardom has done little to change Hood, noting that he comes home to help run a camp for local children and visit schools. “He’s just a good person,” Davis said.
Davis’ father, Wallace Davis, was head coach at Carver for 29 years. He has seen other Carver players — Brentson Buckner, Nate Odomes and DJ Jones — play in the Super Bowl.
He, too, gives credit to Hood’s family. “If all parents were like the Hoods, we’d have a lot fewer problems,” he said. “They are good people. They have always been there for Roderick. They didn’t let him stray.”
Davis said Hood’s speed has been a key to the player’s success, but there a more important key.
“Roderick was small and missed a lot of time with injuries,” the retired coach said. “It was hard work and living the right kind of life that got him to the Super Bowl.”