HERMISTON - After very little deliberation, the Hermiston school board approved the hiring of new football coach Mark Hodges Tuesday, and the coach of 21 years was eager to take the position.

Hodges has spent the last three seasons as the head coach at Fernley High School in Fernley, Nevada, but has previous assistant coaching experience in Oregon at North Medford High School (1999-2004), South Medford High School (1993-1998) and Southern Oregon University (1991-1993).

"I've missed Oregon," he said. "I'm so excited about coming back."

Hodges added Oregon is where he cut his coaching teeth, and all of his best coaching experiences have been here as well.

In his time as a high school coach, Hodges has graduated three college scholarship quarterbacks and coached two state championship games in Oregon. The last game he coached in Oregon was the 2003 state title game with North Medford.

"I can remember after that game, the next morning, I want to go back to Autzen again," he said. "And now we have an opportunity to do that. I'm just so ecstatic about that."

Hodges has also coached track and field for the past 14 years, and was named the Southern Oregon Conference coach of the year five times at North Medford. He said he will help out with the Hermiston High track program if possible, but is especially optimistic about the chance to work with all the student athletes in the weight room.

Hermiston athletic director Mike Kay said the thing that set Hodges apart from the other candidates is his history of developing student athletes, along with his expertise in the area of strength development. The school board will vote on whether or not to make Hodges the high school strength development teacher in April.

Hodges said one of the things he's most proud of in his years of coaching is the number of student athletes who have gone on to receive athletic scholarships and competed at the collegiate level. But even more so than the college athletes, he's proud that so many who have gone through his programs are now coaching as well.

"A lot of that (students participating in higher athletic endeavors) comes from the kid having the drive and talent... and that mostly comes from the kid," he explained. "That's a rewarding enough experience. But when they want to come back and coach with you, that is absolutely most rewarding thing ever."

His resume lists 12 former athletes who now coach in high school programs, including two Oregon football coaches in Crater's Ben Running and Lebanon's head coach Josh Dykes.

The thing that makes Hodges the most excited about coming to Hermiston is the community's interest in athletics, and the school's record for bringing up true student athletes.

"It's a situation where the players feel they're in a program they can be proud of," he said. "But another very important part is the community's interest and love of the schools. What I see in Hermiston is exactly that, and that's one of the reasons I'm so excited. Right there you have a mix for a winning formula."

Hodges will move to Hermiston with his wife and two school-age children.

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