That dream ended Nov. 3, 2001. Hodari, then a strong safety in his senior year at Stanford University, took an elbow to the chin in what the Silver Spring lawyer calls a “freak accident” in a game against the University of Washington.
Hodari lay on the field with 1 minute and 34 seconds left in the third quarter, delaying play by 10 minutes, according to media reports from the game.
Team medics brought out a defibrillator, but never had to use it. It didn’t take long for Hodari to recover from the severe concussion on a surface level, but doctors advised that he should never again suit up and play.
“The doctors were surprised that I was up and about as much as I was,” he said. “The hard part was not feeling bad. I’d feel fine; the next day I’d feel better, which meant that the day before I actually wasn’t fine.”
Before Hodari’s injury, his team had made a good run to get to the 2000 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, Calif. It was only the fourth time since World War II that Stanford had won its conference championship to move on to that bowl game. The Rose Bowl is the pinnacle of play for Pac-12 (then Pac-10) champs, pitting them against the winners of the Big Ten.
That 1999 season had started poorly for Stanford with a big loss at the University of Texas, where Hodari said it was “150 degrees” that day. But the team managed to pull together to win eight games in the regular season and earn the Pac-10 title. The team lost in the Rose Bowl to Wisconsin, 17-9, on New Year’s Day.
Despite missing out on his chance to play in the NFL, Hodari was more fortunate than some. His career-ending injury came a year after University of Washington safety Curtis Williams was paralyzed from the neck down after making a tackle against Stanford during an Oct. 28, 2000, game.
When his football dream ended, Hodari said he “fell back” on his Stanford education. He said it made him realize the importance of choosing Stanford for its mix of academics and athletics.
Hodari was recruited by football programs at several schools — University of Iowa, Bowling Green State University and Boston College, to name a few — but he said that when Stanford came calling, he knew it was the right fit.
They sold him on the idea that going to college is “not a four-year decision, it’s a lifetime decision.”
Hodari said he found it difficult to keep up with academics and playing football, putting in a lot of time to both education and sports.
“You don’t want to let anyone down,” he said.
Hodari also built very strong friendships playing football. A photo in his office shows Hodari and Stanford teammate Coy Wire, who now plays linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, celebrating sacking a quarterback during a game. The two are still close friends.
Eventually, Hodari, 31, went on to study law at the University of Iowa, which his father had attended. He’s now a lawyer at Greenberg & Bederman LLP, where he handles personal injury cases.