Steelers QB Duck Hodges, WR James Washington translate hunting friendship to on-field connection

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers receiver James Washington admits that he isn't the best at calling ducks.

It's a good thing, then, that Washington has a world champion to teach him a thing or two about the skill.

Washington, a Stamford, Texas, native who has been hunting deer, wild hogs and coyotes since sixth grade, went duck hunting with quarterback Devlin "Duck" Hodges on the players’ day off Tuesday. With Hodges the better caller and Washington the better shot, the two made a heckuva pair in their second hunting outing together.

On Sunday, the quarterback and wide receiver took the chemistry they developed in the brush and marshes outside Pittsburgh and put it to good use at Heinz Field for a 20-13 win against the Cleveland Browns.

“Honestly, I guess it’s just me and him just knowing each other off the field,” Washington said of their connection. “Me and him do a lot of hunting together. We kind of get to know each other a little better. It’s all about just making plays that come your way at the end of the day.”

Down 10-0 in the second quarter, the Steelers needed a spark. For the second week in a row, they found it in Hodges' connection with Washington.

This time, the quarterback, making his first home start, hit Washington for a 31-yard gain on a free play, jump-starting an otherwise lackluster offense.

“It kind of goes back to hunting,” Washington said. “I tell him I’m a better shooter than he is, so you call them in, and I’ll shoot ‘em. Kind of how it works.”

On Sunday, Hodges threw ‘em, and Washington caught ‘em.

The 31-yard play in the second quarter gave the Steelers their first third-down conversion of the afternoon and gave the team a little juice. The Steelers got a field goal on the drive, their first points of the game.

“It was a heckuva play by James,” Hodges said. “I think it was on an offsides call, so we had a free play. We took advantage of it, and it was a little spark to get us going.”

Mike Tomlin felt the ripple effects of the spark.

“It takes a splash play to create that rhythm, if you will,” the coach said. “And not only for the offense. I thought that play meant something for the defense. When you are on the sideline supporting your teammates and you see they are capable of moving the ball, that inspires you. I thought it uplifted all of us.”

Washington and Hodges’ connection didn’t end with the 31-yard catch. The Steelers got the ball with 1:48 left in the half, and again, Hodges looked for Washington in the big moment.

He found him five plays into the drive, hitting him for a 30-yard touchdown in traffic to even the score with the Browns at halftime.

“It was the same look that we did in practice,” Washington said. “Without a doubt in my mind, I knew he was throwing that ball there. As far as the catch, it just goes back to making plays and just helping this team come out on top.”

The pair found each other again on the first drive of the third quarter, as Washington hauled in a 44-yard reception en route to a 1-yard score by rookie running back Benny Snell Jr.

For the second week in a row, Washington set a career high in receiving yards. He topped his 98-yard performance against Cincinnati with 111 yards on four catches against the Browns.

The palpable connection between Hodges and Washington comes from spending time together off the field.

“Once I found out he was a hunter, I was like, ‘Man, I need to get to know this guy,’” Washington said. “We share the same interests.”

Although he has gotten close with Hodges only over the past month, Washington has known about Hodges for a couple of years, thanks to the quarterback’s reputation in the duck calling world. Hodges won the 2009 Junior World Duck Calling Contest and the 2018 Alabama State Championship.

“I kind of look up to him in the hunting world on the duck side," Washington said. "I told him, 'You teach me duck hunting, and I’ll teach you coyote hunting.'"

Before Hodges invited Washington on last week’s trip, the pair participated in former Steeler Brett Keisel’s annual hunt. They are also planning a trip to Texas in the spring or summer to hunt in Washington’s comfort zone.

Until then, they have their off-day plans lined up this week.

“I told James after the game,” Hodges said, “we are going duck hunting Tuesday, just like last Tuesday.”