Steve Odom is not only Toledo s top returning pass-catcher, but he is a leader of the receiving corps off the field.
There has been a shadow over Steve Odom.
Nothing bad, mind you. Not a dark cloud or anything like that.
But for the first time in his University of Toledo football career, Odom is stepping out into the bright lights.
Odom caught 115 passes the past two seasons, good for 1,513 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But teammate Lance Moore had 193 catches for 2,383 and 23 touchdowns during those same two seasons.
Well, if you're going to play second fiddle, it might as well be to the best receiver in school history, one who is now trying to stick in the NFL.
"There's no shadow now," Odom said, "but I never had a problem with that. Lance is a great receiver and I learned a lot from him. He was tremendous."
Truth be told, Odom was comfortable in the shadows.
"I like being the underdog," he said. "I like nobody hearing about me. I put the team first and go from there. If I do my job, people will notice."
For now, though, Odom remains a well-kept secret to college football fans outside of the Mid-American Conference.
He's had wonderful years and good stats, but he was always the other guy," said UT coach Tom Amstutz. "Now he's going to be more in focus."
That's fine with UT quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
"I'll guarantee you, Odom's one of the best in the country when it comes to the way he works, the way he runs routes, and his knowledge of the game," Gradkowski said. "When we were in summer workouts, I told all the young guys, 'Look how Odom's working, how he's lining up, how he makes his cuts, look at his tempo and how he always plays at full speed.' He and I worked together all summer coaching up the young guys."
Ah, yes, the young guys.
"We have some good young receivers and no one knows their names yet," Amstutz said.
OK, for the record, some of the names are Trumaine Smith, Pete Lepley, Andrew Hawkins, David Washington and Nick Moore.
Smith is a 6-3, 200-pound redshirt freshman. Lepley caught a 56-yard touchdown pass last season against Minnesota. Hawkins is just 5-8 but runs the 40-yard dash in a swift 4.47 seconds. Washington is the tallest target at 6-5, and Moore has some mighty good genes. He's Lance's younger brother.
"It seems like every season we have receivers come in who nobody knows," Odom said. "I was one of them. Now, I call them the children and they call me grandpa. I stay on top of them and that helps me stay on top of my game."
Amstutz said that UT's coaches will be leaning on Odom, who has started every game since red-shirting as a freshman, especially early in the season.
"That first third-down play, I'll definitely want to throw to Odom," Amstutz said.
One of the Rockets' lightest players at 169 pounds, the 5-10 junior needs just three catches to crack the school's top-10 list in career receptions.
"I'm ready to step up," Odom said. "But the key is still to be a team player. To lead, I don't necessarily need the ball on every pass play. I just need to be doing my job on every play. We have lots of guys who can make plays. It's just nobody has heard from them yet."
And now that's he is out of Lance Moore's shadow, it's a good bet college football fans will hear more than ever from Steve Odom.
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