Cam Odom felt the pain as soon he made the step.

It happened in the second half of Ohio’s game last October against Northern Illinois when Odom was running a route and felt a pop in his big toe. He finished the game, but learned a week later that he suffered a complete tear of the tendon in his toe. His route-running ability was limited for the Bobcats’ final five games.

“I played through it the rest of the season, but it was pulling me back in how I wanted to release,” Odom said in March after Ohio’s first day of spring camp, which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. “I could never really rest it until after the (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) game.”

The injury, which Odom fixed with a small surgery in March, was perhaps the biggest reason why he struggled to take the big leap he hoped was in store for him last season. He was the most experienced receiver on the roster, but he ended his redshirt junior season with a career-low 19 receptions and no touchdowns.

Odom, who caught three touchdowns as a freshman and two as a sophomore, has one year left to make that anticipated jump. Now, he’ll have to do it without Nathan Rourke, the quarterback Odom has teamed up with for his past three seasons. 

Kurtis Rourke, Nathan’s brother, will likely take the starting quarterback position in Week 1, and Odom is confident their relationship on the field won’t be any different from his connection with Nathan.

Before spring camp began, Rourke and Odom spent every weekend inside Walter Fieldhouse to practice routes and throws. They also ate dinner at the dining halls every Thursday, too.

“We try to get things done every day,” Odom said. “On Saturday and Sundays, we’ve worked on the progression of his throws so we know where to be with the ball. That will all apply to when we’re in a real practice situation or game situation.”

Odom has spent time with other quarterbacks, too. The Bobcats will likely have Rourke as their top candidate for starting quarterback, but C.J. Harris, a freshman and early enrollee, was given a few reps with first-team players during the first two days of spring camp.

Harris has a quick arm and connected on a few deep passes in the first two days of camp. He has promise, but he’ll have to show more improvement when Ohio resumes football activities.

Odom, however, wants to be prepared for anyone at quarterback.

“C.J. is definitely athletic,” Odom said. “He has a great ball from what I’ve seen. I’ve talked with C.J and helped him out with little things, but I’ve realized that I’m now the old guy in the room. Football is a game of adjustments. It’s all about adjusting, and that means I have to adjust to these younger quarterbacks.”

The rest of the offense, however, won’t have much change next season. That includes the wide receiver group, which only graduated two players — D.L. Knock and Camryn Snow — from last season. The group is still young and arguably the most promising pack on the Bobcats, but it could benefit from having a true No. 1 receiver. 

That was supposed to be Odom last year, but he never recorded more than three receptions in a game. He’ll face some stiffer competition for that top role this year and will have to outshine promising receivers in Shane Hooks, who led all wideouts last season with five touchdowns, Isiah Cox or Jerome Buckner.

Odom will be the veteran leader no matter who steps up, though. He might not have shown it on the field last year, but Odom believes he has many more touchdowns left.

“I can always improve by being a leader on this team,” Odom said. “And I feel like my biggest key point when I’m leading is by example.”