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By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Andre Odom never asked for anything, because growing up, he had very little to ask for. What he had, he had. The clothes on his back. The shoes on his feet, and a vision from a dark place few possess.
He also had something else. Something few could see. Something special that was recognized by his high school football coach, George Washington High School’s legendary Ron Cohen. There was a character that never seemed to be rattled or deterred. An inner strength that gleamed through his eyes, or in his words and actions. Odom’s character radiated because it came from someone radiant, Lee Odom, his grandmother.
It’s why Cohen entrusted the tutelage of one young Sharrif Floyd to Odom, not much older than Floyd himself. It’s why when Floyd, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound former Washington star defensive tackle who went onto become one of the best in the country at Florida, gets selected among the top three picks in this Thursday’s NFL Draft in New York, Odom is going to be one of the first Floyd hugs.
It’s because, without Odom, and a strong unbending inner circle, Floyd wouldn’t be where he is today.
But you won’t hear Odom take any credit for it though. Floyd is one of many who consider Odom a confidante, a mentor, a trusted friend—and for many, an extended part of the family.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” Floyd admits. “Andre is like an older brother to me. He’s one of the few people I trusted early on in my life. We have a lot of things in common, and I think it’s why it was so easy to talk to him. I think it’s why we bonded so quickly.”
Odom, who worked for WIP for two years, then PNC and the last two years as an assistant coach at Temple, will be moving on to the NFL with the Chicago Bears next football season. Odom was introduced to Floyd through Cohen. Adding to their relationship is the fact Odom and Floyd are originally from the same neighborhood. That helped forge the iron-clad union.
“I trusted Sharrif with Andre because he was forced to grow up fast at a young age, he was through a lot in his life and Sharrif was, too,” Cohen said. “Andre could relate to all the kids. That takes a special person. He’s so giving.”
Giving when so much was taken from him. Odom came up through the foster care system of Philadelphia. His maternal grandmother, Lee, raised him.
“My mom and dad were drug addicts, I came up through a lot of things, and I think it’s why my relationship with Sharrif was so special,” Odom said. “I graduated from Washington and Coach Cohen helped save my life. I give him and my grandmother all of the credit. I think the most important thing is you have to care, because not many people care unless you have something to offer. It’s a process of building confidence and building inspiration. A lot of these kids don’t have that.”
But Odom shakes his head when it comes to taking any credit for Floyd, and his current high station in life. Odom was instrumental in establishing the Legends of the Pub football camp, a two-day event that draws 300 inner-city kids to football, and stresses the importance of academics.
“It’s all about giving back, it’s about showing young people that you could make it, regardless of the obstacles,” Odom said. “I didn’t want my circumstances or the things that went wrong in my life affect where I was going. I have so many people to thank for where I am. Coach Cohen, definitely, for one. My grandmother. [Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker] Jameel McClain and I are like brothers. I knew what greatness was, because I was surrounded by great people. I wanted to be an exception.”
Odom received his degree from Temple in communications and next month he’ll receive a graduate degree from Temple in sports management. This Thursday, he’ll be one of a handful that will travel with Floyd to New York’s Radio City Music Hall for the draft. When Floyd’s name is called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell—and will come early—it will pull an emotional cord.
“It’s been a long road, for me and Sharrif, and it’s just beginning for both of us in the NFL,” Odom said. “I like to think of myself as a pretty even guy. I don’t get too high or too low. But when Sharrif’s name is called, it may stir a little emotion. Whether or not I’ll shed any tears, that’s to be determined.”
What is determined, is who helped make a great player great.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.