Gainesville, Fla. – Young Jonathan Odom wore an orange shirt, khaki shorts and tennis shoes as he ran down the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in a playful one-on-one match that took place more than a decade ago.
His opponent? His father, Jason Odom, the former Gators All-American starting offensive lineman. The University of Florida Athletics Hall of Famer knows all about playing under the bright lights of the swamp.
However, this day was different. The stands were empty. The grass was freshly cut. And other kids were running around in the background.
Tucked the football in his chest and protected by a tiny arm, Jonathan took it to the end zone. As Jonathan and Jason faced each other under the Florida sun, her family snapped the moment.
At the push of a button, the picture froze for a moment, which was repeated later: a Jonathan Odom Landing.
Fast forward to November 12 in Florida’s 38-6 win over South Carolina. The Odom family has another moment of remembrance witnessed by more than 89,000 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Jonathan scored in the exact same end zone.
A lot has changed when the days were removed from the calendar
Jonathan’s feet are much bigger. He is taller. He is older. And like his father when he played for the Gators in the mid-1990s, Jonathan wears a Gators uniform.
The result came in a third and second game in which the UF quarterback Anthony Richardson playfully feigned and rolled to the right. He threw a short pass to Odom, who caught the ball, turned and sauntered into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown, the first of his career.
From the stands, Jason Odom watched the play unfold. As someone who played at Bartow High, then UF, and four years in the NFL, he understood what happened before it came to fruition.
“I saw the game forming and I stood up because I knew he was going to be open,” Jason said this week.
And there was Jonathan, wide open after Richardson faked a handoff to running back Montrell Johnson Jr. Jonathan, a third-year tight end sophomore, rocked the all-blue Florida No. 87 jersey over the goal line as fans roared into the night.
He then danced on the same lot he scored on as a young boy.
“It’s a really surreal moment,” Jonathan said.
In Florida’s last home game of the season, Odom’s goal extended the Gators’ lead to 31-6 over the Gamecocks. Florida’s touchline gathered around the 6ft 5, 237lb Odom as he danced his way to them with the help of the celebratory Gators cane.
Florida coach Billy Napier watched the party from the sidelines in his side’s most dominant performance of the season.
“There could be a common misconception that Napier is not a fun guy.” Jonathan Odom said. “He’s really serious. He tells us he wants us to go insane. He wants the momentum. He says he wants the officials to warn him. You can see we captured the momentum of the game.”
Odom’s touchdown was the result of a forced fumble by the defender Desmond Watson where the crowd went berserk and Florida’s touchline spilled onto the field.
It’s a turn of events that Odom will long remember.
“We had all the momentum. Des, me, everyone. They just take the momentum. We’ve been on the other side of that before, I know how that feels. When we’ve lost games, look at how the boys do celebrate the sidelines, like, “Man, I wish. I wish that could be us.” “
Odom planned to gift touchdown ball to his family, a defining moment in his young, ups and downs career since he graduated from Jesuit High in Tampa.
Odom has sometimes wondered if there would be such a moment given his on-and-off injuries over the past three years.
Odom was named a redshirt in 2020 after four games and then appeared in eight games in 2021, primarily playing on special teams and as a reserve tight end. Finally, healthy and on the rotation, Odom had one of those moments he imagined coming to the Gators.
He danced to show his journey of overcoming adversity, enduring struggles and confronting disappointments. He stayed put, his resilience was not lost on his teammates.
“He was just waiting for his opportunity and it finally came,” says Gators Kingsley Eguakun said. “And I’m glad he was able to take full advantage of that. He worked for it, so I really didn’t expect anything less from him when he came into the game.”
Odom was ready for the opportunity that presented itself. While the fans saw the touchdown and the celebration, they didn’t see the sacrifice, the hard work, the setbacks and the struggle.
His father did. Jason has been a rock to his son through all the ups and downs. The moment Jonathan brought it indoors, nobody was happier than Jason Odom.
“Having that moment culminate in an important game at an important time was just an amazing moment for us,” said Jason. “It was one of the best moments of our lives as parents when we saw him fulfill one of his dreams.”
A dream come true for Jonathan and a journey he continues to master to reach his ultimate goal.
Maybe one day both Gators – Jonathan and Jason – will share a room to keep the memorabilia they’ve collected during their successful gaming careers.