DALLAS -- Devon Still paused when asked if he thinks Gerald Hodges will bypass a final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
"I know he's a great player at the college level, and I think he'd be able to make the adjustment," Still, expected to be a first-round pick himself come April, said Saturday during preparations for Monday's TicketCity Bowl game against Houston. "But I don't see him making that jump because when he does come out, he'll want to be [in] the best [position]."
A few minutes later, Hodges made a profit out of his teammate when the all-Big Ten linebacker confirmed in the Hyatt lobby that he'll be returning for 2012.
A Nittany Nation starved for good news at least got an appetizer.
Hodges, Penn State's leading tackler with 97 stops, submitted his paper work, seeking the NFL's input and his draft range, but a Christmas summit with his family, before hearing back from the league, convinced him to stay put.
Even, he said, if he's told he'd be a first round pick (which he likely would not be for another year.)
"I talked it over with my father and my family, and I'm definitely staying," Hodges said. "I'm not in any rush."
Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden encouraged Hodges not to listen to outside influences.
"He [Vandy] said to make the decision within your own family," Hodges said. "I prayed about it, and my family prayed about it."
Hodges wants to graduate, which he'll do in December of 2012, and he said he can use the next year to become an even better tackler, study more film and get further adjusted to the nuances of the linebacking position.
This past year was his first full season at linebacker after having started his career as a safety and then missing much of 2010 with an injury.
"The more I got comfortable, the more I started to feel like I was in high school when I felt I could play with anyone," he said.
Hodges admitted he began considering the NFL possibility "around midseason," and he seemed relieved in Saturday's media session to have put it behind him.
No matter who is coaching the team next season, he said, "the expectations are still going to be the same -- to play Penn State football, whether it's Joe [Paterno] coaching or Scrap [Tom Bradley] coaching."
Paterno won't be coaching the Lions, and it's doubtful Bradley will be, either, as most believe the choice will come from an outside pool.
Hodges said that uncertainty, coupled with the team's frustration of falling all the way to the TicketCity, created some anxious moments when the Lions were informed of their bowl destination by athletic director Dave Joyner.
Hodges was among the most outspoken during that meeting.
"It was some type of disagreement, but we rallied around and came to an agreement [to accept the invitation]," Hodges said.
He has not recommended a choice to the committee and said he's tried to "stay out" of the speculation. Bradley, Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson are among those to be interviewed.
They've also helped mold some outstanding defensive players in the last few years, such as Tamba Hali, Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, who are dominating in the NFL.
"Talking to people like my father, that [defensive coaching losses] is a big thing, but I'm not worried about it because I'm pretty sure they're going to be bring in a good coach," Hodges said.
Though he's anxious to find out, he's also eager to start 2012, against the nation's top-ranked offense, with a much better feeling than 2011 ended.
"We've been put through the rain and the mud," he said. "This is a chance to show we can play with the best."
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.