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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
BYU's Corby Hodgkiss has had a big impact, despite often going unnoticed.

PROVO — For much of this season, senior safety Corby Hodgkiss has been the BYU defense's equivalent of the Invisible Man. In this case, that's a compliment.

During fall camp, the kat safety position appeared to be an area of concern considering first-stringer Dustin Gabriel decided to undergo season-ending leg surgery. Then second-stringer David Tafuna suffered a season-ending foot injury.

Enter Hodgkiss, who had been listed No. 3 on the depth chart. But he wasn't your typical third-stringer, having played considerably during his Cougar career.

Still, the 5-foot-11, 206-pound native of Irving, Texas, had his doubters.

"It's been one of those things where I've played with a chip on my shoulder the entire year," said Hodgkiss, who is tied for the team lead in pass breakups with four. "A lot of people didn't believe I could get the job done. I feel like I have.

I've played well and I'm confident in the fact that I'm out there.

"At the same time, I'm grateful for the opportunity to play and end my senior year this way. It's been a wonderful opportunity."

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has been impressed with Hodgkiss' strong, yet unsung, play.

"What I think is a tribute to him is, no one has noticed. Not to take anything away from Dustin Gabriel or David Tafuna, but if he wasn't playing well, everyone would know," Mendenhall said. "Because he is playing well, no one has made a point of it. It's just simply him doing what he's supposed to do and helping our football team. Maybe the highest compliment that can be paid to him is that you're not writing about him. In the secondary, if you're not writing about him, it's usually a good thing."

Hodgkiss was, for the most part, inconspicuous until last week's 42-7 victory against Eastern Washington. On the game's third play from scrimmage, Hodgkiss intercepted a Matt Nichols pass in the flat and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown.

"It felt great," Hodgkiss said. "We were in a zone blitz, and (BYU linebacker) Bryan Kehl was able to get good pressure on the quarterback. I don't think he really saw me. We had seen that play on film a couple of times. I wasn't surprised to see it. I was surprised when (Nichols) threw it. It was one of the gifts, you know? It was a great opportunity for me to step in front of it, and then it was just green grass from there. It was a bad decision on his part, but I'll take it."

Especially since there haven't been many passes thrown his way this season.

"It's one of those things where I've had only one or two balls caught on me," Hodgkiss said. "They challenged me at the first of the year (against Arizona and UCLA) and I had a couple of knock-downs. Then I kind of disappeared. At Tulsa, I didn't get a ball thrown on me, as many passes as were thrown. Against Air Force and UNLV, I didn't really get a ball come my way. It just kind of happens that way. I don't necessarily think they're shying away from me, but I am playing well and I feel confident that in these last five games I'll continue to play well."

The rest of the BYU secondary is happy to see Hodgkiss finally receive some recognition.

"It was good to see Corby get (an interception return for a touchdown). It was his turn. He's made so many plays this year, but that was a big one," said cornerback Kayle Buchanan. "Corby deserves it. He's worked hard and prepared hard. Anyone who has worked as hard as he has deserves some credit."

Buchanan added that he was never concerned about how Hodgkiss would play after Gabriel and Tafuna were lost for the season.

"In hindsight, it's especially easy to say, but being perfectly honest, there was never a worry with Corby," he said. "He had started before, and he had played a lot before. He has a good feel for the game, and he knows his assignment. He plays big. No worries. None at all."

It's ironic, though, that the largely unknown Hodgkiss wears No. 14, one of the most decorated and prestigious numbers in school history. More ironic still, BYU retired No. 14 — belonging to quarterback legends Gifford Nielsen and Ty Detmer — during the season-opening victory against Arizona.

Hodgkiss will go down as the last Cougar to wear that number.

"It's an honor," he said. "(Nielsen and Detmer) are amazing. They've had a lot better careers than I've had here. I hope this year, my senior year, I'm able to wear it and honor them and play well. It's kind of been an extra motivation to me as I step onto the field every Saturday."

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com