First things first: What’s the deal with Phazahn Odom’s first name?
“My mom told me it was Russian,” Fordham’s fifth-year senior tight end said at Patriot League media day on Tuesday in Bethlehem, Pa., “but I actually don’t know the meaning of it.”
If Answers.com is to be believed, the word is indeed Russian in origin: It is the pronunciation of a Cyrillic word meaning “pheasant.”
No. Just no. The 6-8, 238-pound Odom is big and rangy and graceful — more along the lines of a falcon or eagle (with aspirations to become a Falcon or Eagle … or Packer or Viking or some other NFL species).
If the name appears a poor fit, note that for a very long time it wasn’t clear how well the game fit him, either. Growing up in Barnwell, S.C., he had a six-year hiatus from football, returning as a high school junior unfamiliar with just about everything (including the equipment) and only seeing significant action as a senior. His college career has been similarly truncated; he was a Rams regular for the first time last fall, as a redshirt junior.
He nonetheless wound up on the all-conference team, having provided 37 catches for 492 yards and seven touchdowns (the latter a school record for tight ends), and this year is comfortably ensconced on the preseason All-PL team as well. He was also named to the STATS FCS Preseason All-America third team. (Teammate Chase Edmonds, a running back, made the first team, and defensive back Jihaad Pretlow joined Odom on the third team.)
“He’s just a big, long, lanky guy, and he’s hard to cover,” Lehigh coach Andy Coen said of Odom.
“Having a guy like that is a mismatch, wherever he goes,” Colgate linebacker Kyle Diener said.
Andrew Breiner, Fordham’s first-year head coach, inherited Odom (and much more) from Joe Moorhead, who in December took the offensive coordinator’s job at Penn State; the Rams went 9-3 and reached the FCS playoffs in 2015. The new boss, who spent the last four years as Moorhead’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, saw his team picked to finish second (behind Colgate) in this year’s preseason poll, and is as bullish on his tight end as anybody else.
He nonetheless reserves the coach’s right to never be completely satisfied.
In the case of Odom, he wishes to see more consistency — better blocking, fewer drops, the whole nine.
“His ‘goods’ were as good as anybody you’re going to find,” Breiner said, “but he had some games or some series or some plays that weren’t very good, and he knows that. We’ve watched that film and we’ve made the corrections, so I’m excited to see Phazahn at his best on a more consistent basis. If he’s able to do that, you’re talking about a legitimate NFL draft prospect.”
Odom likens himself to Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas, another FCS product (Portland State) who has made his mark in the league. But there are miles to go before he reaches that plateau, and again, he is still relatively new at this.
Consider that he only played a single season of peewee football back in Barnwell (pop. 4,750), but was bothered by asthma.
“My mom (Betty Bell) was really protective, so I didn’t play any more after that,” he said.
He concentrated on basketball in the meantime, but coach Eddie Moore talked him into coming out for football his junior year. The trouble began when they handed out pads.
“The coach had to help me, because I had my thigh pads on my knees and my knee pads on my thighs,” he said, laughing at the memory.
He seldom saw the field that year, but the following season was named all-state. The Citadel, Coastal Carolina and Jacksonville State showed recruiting interest, and bigger schools – Auburn, Clemson and South Carolina — came in late, with offers of partial scholarships or walk-on spots.
But Odom had by then visited Moorhead in New York City, and came away impressed with his high-tempo, high-octane offense.
“I just really bought into everything he was saying,” Odom said.
Never mind that the Big Apple is a long way from Barnwell, in every sense – that there are far fewer open spaces and the people “aren’t as social,” as Odom said. He decided it was the place for him.
Then, more trouble. A torn labrum in his left shoulder cost him his freshman year, and he played just four games as a sophomore – partly because he was still recovering from his injury, partly because he was still so raw.
He caught five balls in 2014, then broke out last season. He also earned his degree in psychology, and is doing graduate work now.
All of which can be put aside in a moment, if the NFL comes calling. It’s just a matter of whether he can find the right fit.
Same as it ever was.
Above: Phazahn Odom didn’t play much football in high school or early college but he is making up for it with his skill now. (Courtesy Fordham Sports Information)