Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers
BY RICH PALZEWIC
Packers.com writer Wes Hodkiewicz had a fairly “normal” beginning when it comes to writing, but the 2006 Bay Port grad quickly moved up the ranks to where he is today – one of Packers’ main writers.
Hodkiewicz is livin’ the dream for a team he grew up watching and reading about. The only difference now is that he has an office at Lambeau Field and gets to see some of the most popular players in the NFL passing by in the hallway.
“Sometimes I do have to just pinch myself to see if it’s real,” said Hodkiewicz, who has been with the Packers organization since April of 2016. “A lot of people might take it for granted driving down Lombardi Avenue every day, but I certainly don’t. No matter what walk of life you are in, you don’t want to wake up in the morning and dread what your day is going to be like. I thank God every day for the opportunities he has given me. To work at a place that is such a bucket-list item for so many people is the best thing I could ever imagine. Sometimes I’ll just walk out into the stadium bowl and appreciate the history. People tell me I have the best job in the world and I think I do.”
Hodkiewicz says he owes a lot of his modest beginnings to former Green Bay Press-Gazette (PG) sports editor Mike Vandermause. The PG needed a part-timer at the end of his senior year, so that’s how it all began for Wes, who attended college at UWGB and graduated in 2010.
“I began in the fall of 2006 with the paper doing preps and taking calls at the desk,” he said. “In 2009 I didn’t have to work the desk anymore and was just a part-time reporter. The week after I graduated from UWGB I was promoted to general assignment sports and began covering the Green Bay Gamblers (junior hockey team), and St. Norbert College. I did that for two years and began covering the Packers more and more.”
In the summer of 2012 Wes was promoted to the Packers’ beat full-time at the paper and did that until he left, being there for nine years and nine months. Vandermause pushed Hodkiewicz hard, but he owes a lot to him for giving him a chance, as it got his foot in the door with the Packers.
When Hodkiewicz began writing for the PG, he thought he had the best job in the world being able to write for his hometown newspaper. He made a lot of friends and memories through his work, and still stays in touch with many at the paper. Later, despite being offered a full-time gig with the greatest franchise in professional sports, it wasn’t an easy decision for him to leave the newspaper business.
“Anyone who knows me knows that was a difficult time in my life making that choice,” he said. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve, so as excited as I was for this opportunity, I had so many friends/memories from being at the PG. My wife and I wanted to start a family and stay in Green Bay, so I wasn’t going to leave town for another writing job. If the PG had laid me off, I would have gone and worked at the library just to stay in town. It was the right move at the right time. Although it was a tough decision, two years later it’s a decision that I’m thankful I made and have not regretted.”
You might think the best part of Wes’ job is meeting the players and becoming personal friends with many of them. Although that’s great, it’s not what he loves most.
“I just love telling stories,” he said. “That’s why I got into this. I used to love working the draft and writing about breaking news, but ultimately my favorite thing is to tell fans a story about a player. It’s changed over the years – now two seconds after some important breaking news comes out, everyone knows about it.”
One story that sticks out in Hodkiewicz’s mind is one he did on Mason Crosby and his brother Rees, and sister-in law Brittany last November titled, “Fighting with kicks and punches.” It documents what they have gone through, as Brittany was fighting stage 3-C ovarian cancer.
“Those are the ones – where you get to the core of people – that I love and get a rush from… telling a story that most people don’t know about,” said Hodkiewicz. “You get to know the player behind the facemask. When I can find a story that humanizes a player, that’s where I get my biggest thrill. There are so many people covering the NFL right now and many of the stories get rehashed and retold.”
Brittany’s fight with cancer weighed heavily on Crosby’s mind when he kicked the game-winning field goal against the Dallas Cowboys in a Jan. 15, 2017, playoff game in Arlington, Texas. Crosby’s kick propelled the Packers to a 34-31 victory, sending them to the NFC Championship game the next weekend. Rees, Brittany and her parents were watching from their house in Georgetown, Texas, unable to attend the game because Brittany was only nine days removed from being in the hospital.
He also did a story on Johnathan Franklin who had to retire prematurely from the Packers with a neck injury.
“That was a tough one because I had to talk to Johnathan’s agent and also his good friend Datone Jones,” he said. “Those two guys grew up together, went to college together, played video games together and now they couldn’t play football together anymore.”
Two stories that he did on Davon House also stick out. One was about his brother Tyreace and how he suffered a serious car accident during House’s first stint with the Packers. The other was this past offseason when Davon needed a ride from Minneapolis late at night for OTA’s the next day, and two fans from the area drove him across the state, arriving in Green Bay at 3:30 a.m.
The casual fan can only dream about rubbing elbows with the players, but Hodkiewicz laughs about how different it is now compared to years ago when he was at the PG.
“That’s one thing that is very different now,” said a laughing Hodkiewicz. “I don’t want to say I was the enemy when I worked at the PG, but I kind of was. I was a critic and doubter back then. I embraced that role, but as I get closer to the players, I learn more and more about what drives them and their families. I’ve been blown away with how cool they’ve been towards me. I remember when I was hired, Randall Cobb, TJ Lang and Mike Daniels really went out of their way to welcome me. I’ll be honest: even though I had worked with the Packers before when I was at the paper, I was really nervous to start this new job and be behind the scenes in areas that I wasn’t allowed to be in before.”
Wes would say he’s personal friends with many of the guys, but he tries to walk that fine line of being professional and not going overboard. Hodkiewicz singles out former players Micah Hyde, Casey Hayward, Andy Mulumba and Jayrone Elliott as being good friends.
“Casey Hayward is one of the finest guys you will ever meet,” he noted. “I remember when I was at the paper I told Casey that anytime anything controversial would come up, I’d always go to him because I didn’t mind looking like an idiot in front of him.
“I’m probably closer friends with people in the front office, but there are definitely lots of players I keep in close contact with, even after they have left the team.”
Wes feels the offseason changes the Packers have made in the front office and coaching ranks are a good thing as well.
“I’m really excited to see how things work out,” he added. “Mike McCarthy and Mark Murphy are the two most recognizable faces in the organization since they’ve been here the longest. To have the president (Murphy) more involved in things will be a good thing.”
Hodkiewicz has no plans to step aside from his “dream job” and will continue to do his part in telling the stories that he loves to share.
“As long as my badge keeps letting me in the building, I’ll be here,” he said. “I missed quite a few things with my wife (Caitlin) when I was at the PG. I was pretty much on the clock 24/7 when news would break. Working for the Packers – I still work a lot – but when I’m packing up my stuff to go home at night, I’m free of it. I know what I have to accomplish, but I have a lot more peace of mind now. I’m happy not to wake up in a cold sweat at 3:00 in the morning worrying about checking Twitter to see if anything happened. My hair hasn’t been graying at the same pace it was before and my overall well-being has improved over the last two years. I couldn’t be happier.”
Like many of the players, Hodkiewicz is just a normal guy. He’s approachable, humble, pleasant to be around and is also a new father. He just happens to be extremely talented at what he does.
Do yourself a favor and read Wes’ work on Packers.com or by following him on Twitter @WesHod.