By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- There was a time when Cameron Odom looked around Ohio football's wide receiver room and was surrounded by more veteran players.
Sebastian Smith. Papi White. Andrew Meyer.
Now, Odom is that veteran guy. Like last year, he's still the starter at the 'X' receiver position. But entering 2019, the redshirt junior is being asked to be the top target for senior quarterback Nathan Rourke and the Ohio passing attack.
"It's an exciting feeling and a big role that my coaches and teammates trust in me to be a number one guy this year," said Odom. "I'm definitely not being complacent about it, and I'm teaching up the young guys as well. I'm just going into this first week with a strong mindset."
Odom has totaled 50 receptions for 726 yards and five touchdowns in two collegiate seasons and is coming off of a 2018 season in which he ranked third on the team with a career-high 30 receptions, racked up a career-high 418 receiving yards and caught two touchdowns.
However, he's not just being leaned upon to be a statistical leader for the Bobcats. Odom was one of five players to have the honor of being named a team captain for Ohio in 2019, giving him a greater responsibility as a leader in the locker room.
"That's definitely one of the biggest honors you can get in a team sport," said Odom. "It meant a lot to me to see my teammates look up to me as that type of teammate and that type of person, on and off the field."
The new role won't necessarily mean a different demeanor for Odom or a new way of conducting his business. He plans to stick to what has worked for him, which is being true to himself.
"It's just being me," said Odom of his approach to leadership. "I've never tried to switch up how I play, how I am, how my character is. Just keep coaching up guys and coaching up myself and working every day."
Playing for someone or something other than yourself, brings the best out of you pic.twitter.com/BXlF6IvAbW— Cam Odom ⚡️ (@Cvmo_1Seven) September 16, 2017
Odom has had the benefit of watching some of the best receivers to ever do it in an Ohio uniform. He was a redshirt in 2016 as Smith finished his career ranked third in school history with 163 career receptions, fifth with 2,137 career receiving yards and seventh with 13 career touchdowns. He watched White blossom into a First Team All-Mid-American Conference wide receiver who set the school record with 2,620 career receiving yards and tied for second with 19 career receiving touchdowns after he finished third in the MAC with career-high 987 receiving yards and a career-high nine touchdown receptions in 2018.
"The one thing that those guys told me is to never be complacent," said Odom. "Work every day like I'm still working for that number one spot. All those guys are different types of players. I tried to pick little things from each guy to add to my game, and it definitely helped. Just to be myself and come out here and have fun and be grateful every day I step on the field."
With the losses of White and Meyer, who was second on the team with 36 receptions, 505 receiving yards and five touchdowns, to graduation, Odom faces the challenge of mentoring a young, but talented wide receiver room. Redshirt sophomore Isiah Cox and redshirt freshmen Jerome Buckner, Shane Hooks and Ty Walton are all being asked to assist Odom in helping the Bobcats replace 1,829 receiving yards lost from its total of 2,710 a year ago.
"Shane's a big, long guy. He can go up and get it and also run intermediate routes. Jerome is our fastest guy on the team. Definitely a deep threat. He can separate. Isiah, he can play anywhere. Inside, outside. He's a great route runner," noted Odom. "All these guys come every day to work. We take off of (wide receiver) Coach (Dwayne) Dixon's personality. We're goofy sometimes in the meeting room, but we know how to separate when to play around and when it's time to take things serious."
Growing up southeast of Cleveland in Bedford, Ohio, Odom was raised a Browns fan and maintains his love for the NFL franchise to this day. He believes that he and the rest of Ohio's young wide receivers could have a chance to make a similar impact to what Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. are expected to make for the Browns this year.
"I look at it as our group could be that dominant wide receiver core in the MAC, if not the nation as well," said Odom. "When I was at home, I was able to go to a Browns practice, and I was more so watching it, not as a fan, but watching the techniques and things like that and trying to bring that back here, that dog mindset that we're going to dominate every play of every game."
Ohio hasn't won a conference championship in football since 1968. Cleveland hasn't won an NFL championship since 1964. Could this be the year that both those title droughts finally end?
"I might pass out," laughed Odom when asked about the possibility. "That would mean the world to me, to bring that MAC championship here to this program, to this coaching staff, to myself and to my teammates and send the seniors out on a big note. And then, the Cleveland Browns to bring one back home to the city after we got one from the Cavs in 2016. That would be a great moment."