AS someone who has derived pleasure from pounding the steep gradients of the Eston Hills since childhood, scaling lofty heights has always gone with the territory for Jonathan Hogg.
Set Huddersfield Town’s little big man a daunting challenge and his eyes will light up with a clear hint of defiance and determination to succeed. It is borne from taking some heavy blows in his formative footballing years and ultimately drawing strength from that considerable adversity.
Raised in Middlesbrough, no-one could ever accuse the 29-year-old Town captain of not possessing an iron character.
Rejected by home-town club Boro for being too small as a youngster, Hogg got knocked down and then promptly got up again, only to rupture his knee ligaments in ‘two or three places’ in March, 2007 after working ferociously to prove the doubters wrong and earn his Premier League stripes at Aston Villa.
After a lengthy spell out, the midfield battler again displayed his strong jaw to fight back again and it has been a recurrent theme in a career which has seen him earn things the hard way – culminating in finally claiming his top-flight return ticket in May with a Town side whose promotion bid was expected by many to flounder in 2016-17, but never did.
Then, as now, many from the outside continue to write off Town in their current quest to attain Premier League safety.
You sense that Hogg would probably not have it any other way with proving people wrong being in his DNA.
On his penchant for defying the odds, Hogg, who will lead Town out against former club Watford today in a high-pressure stakes game in which three points for the hosts would massively enhance their survival prospects, said: “I think your mentality has got to be top-class when you try and move up the ladder and play at the highest level.
“It is one of those things; if I do not give 110 per cent with my ability, then I am not going to get anywhere. I must give everything in every single game to make sure I have no regrets.
“I did start in the Premier League and I am back here now and it is fantastic for me. It is not just me, every player wants to keep playing in the best league in the world against some of the best players. To test yourself week in, week out is fantastic and what it is all about and why you work so hard.
If I do not give 110 per cent with my ability, then I am not going to get anywhere. I must give everything in every single game to make sure I have no regrets.Huddersfield Town’s Jonathan Hogg
“When I was younger, I was doing fantastic and was just about to break into the first team at Villa and then I rushed back from injury to play an Under-21s game and I injured my knee and I was out for 12 months. That was one of the reason why I thought that this Premier League opportunity was not going to come around again.
“It was a career-threatening injury, but I was determined to bounce back and give everything.”
In an era when stories of indulgence and avarice among pampered Premier League footballers are sadly commonplace, Hogg is the perfect antidote and a refreshing old-school throwback.
He still lives close to his Teesside roots and is happiest when he is walking his two dogs and traversing the nearby hills in the scenic North Riding, which effectively provide the perfect outdoor gym for his summer fitness work.
Whatever happens to Huddersfield this season, Hogg will stick to that close-season routine in the summer. But how uplifting it would be if he was still doing it as a Premier League footballer.
If Town achieve their aim, expect David Wagner to be the first to make a beeline for him.
Mention Hogg’s name to the German and a beaming smile is never far away, with his selfless team ethic, spirit and commitment personifying Wagner’s footballing ethos and Terrier identity.
One was resident this week when Town’s head coach was quick to pay tribute to a ‘real leader’ who is stepping up to the plate on the pitch just as he famously did during Town’s ‘bonding trip’ to a remote Swedish island in the summer of 2016 when his ‘survivor’ instincts drew gushing praise from his boss.
A humble, low-maintenance footballer who prides himself on doing a good day’s graft, Hogg’s dedication will be witnessed during his summer routine when he negotiates those hills.
He said: “I still do it now every pre-season. I never change and still do the same runs and times and everything else. I hate sitting in the house. I cannot think of anything worse. I would just rather put my runners on and go for a run or just do something.
“I am not someone who can just sit around and watch the world go by.
“Dedication is key for me. I know I have got to keep doing that for my full career and the day I stop doing that is the day I am not going to be a player and it is time to hang up my boots. I know I have got to work hard and make sure I give it my best.
“My mates know the sacrifices and hard work I have put in. A lot of people have backed me all the way and stood by me. I think you need that in your background as, when things aren’t going well, you need to fall back on someone.”
Wagner’s consistent references to Hogg as a ‘proper Terrier’ are clearly not by accident either, with Mark Twain’s famous quote regarding the importance of the size of the fight in the dog as opposed to the ‘size of the dog in the fight’ definitely applicable in his case.
For Huddersfield Town on a wider scale, too, the underdog card is a badge of honour.
Hogg added: “I don’t really care what others (pundits) think, to be honest. Last year, they wrote us off and said we would get relegated and we got promoted.
“It is nice being the underdogs; no-one expects anything of you apart from yourself.
“It is nice proving people wrong, no matter which line of work you are in.”