As far as Sharonda Sanders is concerned, there is no other way to put it.
Her son, Brandon Odell, appeared to be “too cocky” as the featured player for the Wooddale Middle School football team the previous two seasons.
“He was very cocky,” Sanders said looking at her son with a grin. “His attitude was like he was untouchable, like he knew all the plays. And I always told him, ‘Brandon there’s always someone who’s better than you.’ I told him to don’t ever get to a point where he thinks, ‘I’m at my best.'”
Fortunately for the 14-year-old Odell, who recently completed his freshman season for East High, he didn’t hesitate heeding the wise counsel of his mother, who has followed his football skills ever since his days of playing for the Memphis Tigers five-year-old division.
Although the East coaching staff embraced his height, in large part because for a 6-foot-6 tight end, he boasts a huge size advantage against opposing defenders, Odell spent a majority of the season watching the more experienced varsity players. In a nutshell, while holding the clipboard was rather foreign to him, Odell learned the notion of what it means to move in silence.
“I was nervous lining up against linemen that was 300 pounds and you was 200 (pounds),” said Odell, a two-way athlete who also played defensive end. “I still managed to do my job, keep outside containment, and force (opposing defenders) the other way.”
Although a majority of Odell’s reps in practice and games came courtesy of suiting up for the junior varsity squad, he still managed to play sparingly for the Mustangs’ varsity team. His much-anticipated moment for varsity came in East’s Week 6 road game at Briarcrest, where Odell helped contribute to the Mustangs’ gutsy 27-21 win.
“I believe it’s tight end, but everybody seems to like me at defensive end,” Odell, who made two varsity appearances, said when asked where does he feels comfortable the most on the field. “I do more on defense really because I put my hands on people.”
It didn’t take long for the Mustang coaching staff and others to see that they had a potential All-State athlete in their midst. In the season opener for the junior varsity team against his former school, Odell emerged as the catalyst for the Mustangs’ defense when he recorded nine sacks and one interception in that game.
“That made me realize I was stronger than I thought I was,” said Odell, assessing his high school debut. “It made me realize I can play with anybody in the city.”
While he continues to weather the process of becoming acclimated to East coach Marcus Wilberly’s system, Odell routinely partakes in the essential mechanics off the field that will ultimately translate into more reps with the varsity squad as the Mustangs prepare for Spring practice in the coming weeks. Odell engages in routine individual conditioning sessions in which he runs a number of miles, lift weights three times a week, and exercises to increase his upper body strength.
In addition, he is scheduled to attend a number of 7-on-7 football camps and combines this summer, although he had been a fixture on the AAU basketball circuit in recent years.
“I heard it gives you more experience than usual practices,” Odell said of the 7-on-7 camps. “It’ll allow me to get better and I must stay on top of my game because I know people are watching me.”
Wimberly, who guided East to a 9-3 finish and the second round of the Class 6A playoffs last year, is among those who have watched Odell since he starred in middle school. That, according to his mother, was among the key factors that convinced her to send her son to play for the Mustangs’ tradition-rich program.
“(Wimberly and his staff) showed they cared,” Sanders said. “They even came to watch him when he was in middle school. I can see he has developed more. He has more confidence and playing for East, he’s become more humbled.”
Which, of course, was the pivotal point mom was trying to drive home all along, a life-changing lesson Odell seems to have taken heed to as he looks ahead to his second full season of varsity football.
“He’s good,” Odell said of Wimberly. “He trains us on how to develop a team concept and stay focus. He’ll gives us a chance to get into (college) and to impress scouts.”
So much for being cocky.