Cam Odom smiled and pulled his hood over his head as he joined the huddle of Ohio’s wide receivers after the 12th spring practice at Walter Fieldhouse.
The other receivers jogged off the field and cracked jokes after Odom, an upcoming redshirt junior from Bedford, broke the huddle with an “Ohio” chant. The routine wasn’t much different from what Odom experienced in his three previous spring practices, but there was a slight twist.
Now, Odom is the most experienced receiver on Ohio. That means he’s the de facto No. 1 wideout in a group riddled with young players looking for a mentor. He’s no longer in the shadows of Papi White or Andrew Meyer, who topped Ohio’s depth chart for the last two years but played their final game with the Bobcats in December.
Odom is the new leader who needs to step up, and he knows it.
“I feel like I've gained their respect,” Odom said. “We have a lot of chances for guys to step up in the spotlight. This year, I plan on taking that big step and jumping to the No. 1 receiver.”
Odom wanted last year to be a breakout year. He had a chance to compete with Meyer and White, each one year older than Odom, but finished third among Ohio receivers with 418 receiving yards and fourth with two touchdowns.
It didn’t meet Odom’s expectations, but it was far from a bad year. He improved on the drop issues he struggled with freshman year and set a career-high with 114 receiving yards on five receptions in Ohio’s near-upset of Cincinnati.
The Bobcats lost three of their top four receiving leaders after 2018 and need Odom to increase production next season, but he can’t do it alone. That’s why he focused on developing Isiah Cox and Shane Hooks in spring practice.
Cox, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, will likely serve as the No. 2 receiver to Odom after totaling 309 receiving yards and three touchdowns last year. Hooks, an upcoming redshirt freshman, is the tallest receiver on the team and could make an impact with his 6-foot-4 frame.
"I definitely get a lot of questions from the younger guys with this being my fourth spring,“ Odom said. “If I talk to the guys, I'll talk to them as a human being. I want everyone in my group to be great. They really hold each other to a high standard, so I hope they do the same for me.”
Odom’s biggest asset for a breakout year, however, is through Nathan Rourke. The senior quarterback totaled 2,434 passing yards and 23 touchdowns last year, and Odom will attempt to take advantage of having the luxury to play with a gifted quarterback for three full years.
Odom played with three different quarterbacks at Bedford High School before being a quarterback himself his senior year, so the continuity with Rourke under center has allowed Odom to form a bond he’s never reached.
“I know who to get time with, and I feel like me and Nate have that,” Odom said. “We get extra work in every day, and Nate is an unbelievable player, so I feel like it's just going to be a great connection between us wideouts and Nate."
But for the rest of the wide receivers to elevate their game, they need Odom to show them how.
The best way to do that is by having a big year of his own.