Meet the NFL player better known for being a TikTok star

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- KhaDarel Hodge doesn’t remember the day he hit 100,000 followers. How he went from another creator making videos to a semi-viral sensation.

For years, the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver made short, comedic videos largely in anonymity. He did it for himself. For his friends. For life after football. Fifteen minutes working on one bit, in one take, changed that.

He says his following nearly doubled after the second video of a two-part bit was posted in June -- he now boasts over 103,000 followers on TikTok.

Now Hodge -- known as "Red" to his family, friends and teammates -- can add internet celebrity to his résumé.

“That particular video was like, ‘OK, I got people’s attention, and they are continuing to look at me and they want more and more,’” Hodge said. “I realized I got something here.”

The videos are of Hodge pretending to get into an Uber after a Sunday brunch of bottomless mimosas. Part 1 generated 2.4 million TikTok views. Part 2 received over 416,000 likes and 133,000 shares on Instagram and 1.5 million TikTok views.

Together, they reveal a different side of Hodge’s personality.

Even inside the eclectic Falcons receivers room, with big personalities like the unconventional Mack Hollins and the loquacious Frank Darby, Hodge’s ability to turn his humor into on-screen comedy is noticed.

“We look at Red as being an actor in the future,” Darby said. “It’s like, ‘You’re so dope at TikToks, like you should really go for acting jobs as soon as football’s over.’ He does a lot of little catchy things, like facial expressions.

“He’s got the personality for it.”

The work for the breakthrough has been far from overnight. It’s something Hodge has put years into.

WHILE STUDYING AT Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi, in 2014, Hodge started regularly posting videos on social media. He played around on Instagram, which launched four years prior, and since-defunct apps Vine and Dubsmash. Occasionally he’d post on Facebook and he never quite got into Twitter, eventually deactivating his account.

He was building a platform while getting comfortable behind the camera and performing in front of it.

“It’s kind of like my personality outside of football,” Hodge said. “Where I can be myself and be free.”

Hodge often saw the work of others and wondered how he would have approached it differently, how he would have made it funnier or catchier.

If he saw something serious, Hodge contemplated turning it into comedy. He worked at it as he excelled in football.

His social media presence remained a side project as he maneuvered through college at Alcorn State, Hinds Community College and Prairie View A&M, before signing as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Rams in 2018. He has also played with the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions before landing with the Falcons.

“You never really know what somebody’s going through,” Hodge said, “and that video itself could change somebody’s day, give somebody a laugh and make their day better.

“So that’s the content I’m creating.”

FALCONS COACH ARTHUR Smith often talks about players being an “Instagram star.” Smith says it with some sense of sarcasm, mostly about people who post all of their workouts or every detail about their lives. What he’s referring to, though, is not the player on his team who actually is one.

Hodge sometimes mentions football in Instagram posts -- more often in stories. Other than “Atlanta Falcons WR 12” in his TikTok bio, there’s hardly any football acknowledgement there, either. Some of it is purposeful by Hodge, who has performance ambitions when his playing career is done. Hodge, a core special teams player, had a career-high 202 yards and his first NFL touchdown with the Falcons last season.

He began taking private, one-on-one acting classes so he could become more comfortable and consistent with what it takes to succeed in television and film. He said some agencies have reached out to represent him as an actor.

Being in Atlanta could help -- the Georgia Film Office reported the state brought in $4.4 billion in revenue from film and television production in the 2021-2022 fiscal year spread out over 412 productions. For instance, scenes in "Ozark" were filmed close to the Falcons’ practice facility in Flowery Branch, and Tyler Perry Studios is less than five miles from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

In the future, Hodge would like to be in some of Perry’s productions.

“I’ll keep going until I reach the main man out here in Atlanta, Mr. Tyler Perry himself,” Hodge said. “That’s the goal, the goal I set for myself. That would be great, whether he put me in a movie back-scene walking around, anything, or just meeting him in person.

“That would be crazy and amazing. That would make my day.”

For now, Hodge will keep making videos. Some take no time. Others, like a recent adaptation of the famous Will Smith "Dad" scene from the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," are more complex. He has learned it’s hard to predict what will and won’t break through.

Since the Uber video, Hodge said he has been noticed more -- as the “TikTok dude,” not the NFL player. The appreciation motivates him, but it isn’t his reason for doing the videos.

“I enjoy it and I want to do it and I feel like it’ll help me get through the day,” Hodge said. “Sometimes I enjoy doing it because it takes my mind off of real life, and so doing that really helps me just get away from real life.

“So I can live through that character in that moment, and come back.”