Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Aug. 6 newspaper on Page A6.
Top wide receivers often have the reputation of being supremely talented, flashy and display outsized personalities.
Cameron Odom is not that type of person. Still, Ohio’s best bet this season to emerge as the No. 1 wide receiver has built a connection with the team’s quarterback just by being who he is.
Swiping an opponent’s towel? Won’t happen with Odom. Elaborate end zone dance? Nah. Exchanging words with defensive backs? Better record it if you see it because it probably won’t happen again.
“That’s just who I am,” explains Odom, a junior who is being tasked with leading the Bobcats’ young receivers group this season.
“I know when you get your mind off the right things stuff can go down hill,” he added. “And those defensive guys? When they start talking? I don’t even worry about it.”
In a position group that is often perceived as being me-first, Odom bucks the trend with a team focus that resonates with senior quarterback Nathan Rourke. The two worked on their chemistry over the spring and summer as Rourke knew he’d need a new primary target, and Odom knew he’d need to do more to lead a receiving group that lost four of its top five pass catchers from 2018.
Rourke has loved what he’s seen so from Odom, who will be a first-time captain as a junior this season.
“He’s always taken care of himself, never been an issue off the field, always watching film and doing the right thing,” Rourke said. “He’s not the loudest guy, but he leads really well by example.
“You need that. To be a team-centered guy at that position is meaningful.”
Odom has been a complementary player over his first two seasons as a part-time starter. He came to Ohio as standouts Sebastian Smith and Jordan Reid (now a GA at Ohio) were finishing up stellar college careers. He was often the third receiver in the rotation the last two years as Papi White — now with the Tennessee Titans — shined as the Bobcats’ go-to flanker.
In two seasons, Odom has competed in 21 games with 50 total catches for 718 yards (14.5 per catch average) and five career touchdowns. He’s been a starter, and been a factor.
Now, Odom has to be ‘the’ guy. Ohio will be young at WR, with redshirt freshmen and sophomores expected to fill much of the rotation around Odom and senior D.L. Knock. Odom is the clear pick to be the top target for Ohio in 2019.
“I’ve worked myself into being that No. 1 guy this year. I’m still working for that spot,” Odom said.
“But at the same time I’m trying to coach up the other guys and I want them to be at the same level if not better.
“I don’t want the focus on the starter, or the 2s. I want people to look at us as a whole as being a great receiver group.”
It’s a task that has Odom’s full attention. He’s said good bye, at least until the end of camp, to his relatively new puppy — Cyan. He always wears a hoodie in practice, despite the August heat, to make himself uncomfortable during workouts. And he’s maintaining a positive outlook despite some challenges, such as when WR assistant Dwayne Dixon kept the position group after practice for an extra 30 minutes on Monday when the group failed to execute a drill to his specifications.
“It’s what you have to do. Like this drill we just did, guys are dropping a ball and getting mad because they want to leave practice,” Odom said. “My goal, my job, as a leader with this room is to keep them positive.
“Keep at it. We’ll get through it and we’ll be better for it.”
To this point in his college career, Odom has shown flashes of being a potential No. 1 receiver. But there have been times when he has drifted to the background as well. This fall, it’s on him to give the group a dependable cornerstone on which to build upon.
Rourke has no doubt Odom will be the guy leading the wide receivers once the games begin, just like he’s trying to lead them now under the August sun.
“There’s a role for him to step up. We know what he’s capable of,” Rourke said. “He’s ready.”