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KhaDarel Hodge gets back in the end zone and keeps on strumming

Hodge broke out his signature guitar celebration in grand fashion Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium

KhaDarel Hodge reached the goal-line, darted to his left toward the pylon and looked up for the football.

The pass from quarterback Case Keenum was a screamer, located just above Hodge's head but perfectly placed. Hodge beat his defender, so he raised his hands, snatched the throw and glanced up into the crowd of cheerful Browns fans at FirstEnergy Stadium to soak in the moment — his first touchdown since he was a rookie receiver in 2018 with the Los Angeles Rams. 

Up next: His favorite celebration.

His right arm was raised out and his left hand was centered. His imaginary guitar was strapped around his shoulders, and he completed a quick performance as the guitar solo from Queen's "We Will Rock You" blared over the stadium speakers.

"It felt amazing," Hodge said of the touchdown. "I've been trying to get into the end zone for so long. I just thank God."

The celebration was well-earned for Hodge, who helped the Browns defeat the Giants, 17-13, by recording two receptions for 21 yards and registering a special teams tackle. Those numbers have been the norm throughout Hodge's four-year career, which has been defined by playing as a special teams gunner and making the most of any receiving opportunities that come his way.

Hodge has needed to fight for his role on the roster ever since he was claimed off waivers by Cleveland from the Rams in 2019. Since then, he's totaled 15 receptions for 256 yards and has earned praise from teammates and coaches for fulfilling whatever roles he's been thrusted in.

He knows he'll have to earn those roles again in 2021 to be a contributor. His touchdown catch Sunday was his best and most recent example.

"'Hodgey' made a great catch on the ball," Stefanski said. "It's not surprising because (quarterback Case Keenum) and him have thrown together quite a bit. Hodgey certainly understands his role."

Check out photos of the Browns against the Giants in week two of the preseason

Hodge is in the thick of a deep competition at wide receiver. The position has two bonafide starters in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who were rested Sunday for the second consecutive preseason game, but the spots behind them are wide open. Hodge is in the middle of it, alongside third-round rookie Anthony Schwartz, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Rashard Higgins, among others. 

But Hodge has always had competition for every job he's earned in the NFL. He's learned to overcome the battles and win roles by making the most of every opportunity that's come his way.

"You have to put your best on tape at all times," Hodge said. "That's just what I do. There's no plays off. Every opportunity counts, because you never know when it could be your last."

Hodge became a key player in Cleveland for using that mentality to make the most of his chances in 2020, when he built his best NFL season with 11 receptions for 180 yards. A few deep catches and first-down pickups were among them.

His guitar celebration, one that's caught on among the Browns fanbase, started then, too. The idea formed in a conversation with his younger brother, who was encouraging him to find a celebration whenever he made big catches. Hodge gave it some thought before knowing exactly what to do: "I think I might rock out."

Hodge, who doesn't actually play the guitar but is "really open to learning," used it for the first time in Week 11 against the Eagles after making a big first-down catch. He's used it for big plays ever since and was thrilled to see Browns fans strumming along with him after snatching a long-awaited touchdown in the preseason victory.

"I think it caught on," he said with a smile.

Hodge believes he'll have more chances to rock on this season. To find them, he'll need to continue making the most of every opportunity that comes his way.

That's never been a problem for Hodge.

"I can play offense and special teams," he said. "I know what I can do, and that's all that matters."

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