Bulldogs running back Odim putting wins before statsBudgeteer sports columnist Louie St. George reports back from UMD's football press junket.
By: Louie St. George, Budgeteer News
For a guy who doesn’t much care about individual statistics, Isaac Odim sure has produced gaudy numbers in his two years in the University of Minnesota Duluth backfield.
Odim, the Bulldogs’ electric senior running back, sprayed his name all over UMD’s record book in 2009 en route to being named a Harlon Hill Award finalist.
What he didn’t do, however, was celebrate a victory in the final game of the season — à la 2008 when the Bulldogs streaked to an NCAA Division II national championship.
UMD’s 2009 campaign ended in the national quarterfinals.
“I don’t think anyone was really satisfied with that, so this year I think we all have our sights on the national championship, so that’s what we’re going for,” Odim said earlier this week at Malosky Stadium.
Lofty expectations, to be sure, but the Bulldogs are justified in thinking big.
Thirteen starters return from a year ago, including quarterback Chase Vogler, who will compete for playing time with fellow sophomore Jon Lynch and redshirt freshman Brent Jorgenson.
D.J. Winfield, a junior from Mountain Iron, and Noah Pauley, a senior and former Central Trojan, will give the eventual starting QB a pair of prolific pass-catchers. Senior linebacker Robbie Aurich, the reigning defensive player of the year in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, anchors a veteran defense that allowed a paltry 12.5 points a game last season.
Odim singlehandedly topped that production while crafting one of the finest seasons any Bulldog has ever had.
With the rookie Vogler under center, Odim estimates that UMD ran the ball 80 to 85 percent of the time. The lack of balance did little to thwart Odim, who rumbled for 1,808 yards and 29 touchdowns — both UMD single-season records.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder from Rochester also set school marks in total touchdowns (33), scoring (198 points), 100-yard rushing games (12) and kickoff return average (35.9 yards).
What can he possibly do for an encore?
“We expect him to have another great year,” coach Bob Nielson said. “He’s been a big part of the success of our program. … His having a good year will be critical to our continued development offensively.”
On Monday, Odim didn’t seem particularly concerned with topping his numbers from 2009; he’d rather help the Bulldogs reprise their 2008 postseason march.
Thus, he spent the summer trying to get bigger and stronger, along with refining the nuances of his position. That aspect, the little things like picking up a blitzing linebacker or showing patience while a play develops, often goes unnoticed with an athlete of Odim’s caliber.
“[He’s] really become a student of the game,” said running backs coach Mike McHugh. “With an athlete as gifted as he is, at the lower levels there’s more of a tendency to just run for the open space.
“He could tell you what the other 10 guys on the field are doing, as well as knowing the ins and outs of his position, which really takes his understanding to the next level.
“And when you watch on film, there are very minimal, if any, mental mistakes.”
Making UMD’s running game even more lethal is Brad Foss, a senior who tallied 769 rushing yards a year ago.
For Foss and Odim, a significant task leading up to the Aug. 28 season opener at highly touted Central Washington will be to develop a rapport with a retooled offensive line, where the Bulldogs have to replace four starters.
Odim, then, could see more resistance — at least until that unit is solidified — from opposing defenses. That’s fine with the All-American back, who admits an affinity for bouncing off tackles.
“I’d say my one strength for sure is breaking tackles,” he said. “That’s one thing that I take pride in, never giving up on a play, never letting one person take you down, never letting the first person tackle you. That’s one thing that I always strive to do, is to break tackles and get extra yards.”
UMD was picked as the preseason favorite in the NSIC by conference coaches earlier this week. The Bulldogs received 13 first-place votes. Minnesota State-Mankato, which picked up the other first-place vote, was slotted to finish second in the 14-team NSIC.
UMD is ranked fourth in Division II, while its season-opening opponent, Central Washington, is fifth. That contest, a rematch of a down-to-the-wire affair won by Central Washington in 2009, jumpstarts a formidable schedule for the Bulldogs.
“I’m a fan of playing good teams early,” Nielson said. “... We start out playing a Central Washington team this year that will be one of the top teams in the country, and I think that will give us a good gauge of where we’re at as a football team and where we need to go.” …
Former UMD hockey coach Mike Sertich will be a volunteer assistant at St. Scholastica this winter. …
Ben Jukich, a 2001 graduate of Duluth Denfeld, is 4-4 with a 4.19 ERA in 77 1/3 innings for the Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. …
The Minnesota Timberwolves recently signed free-agent guard Anthony Tolliver. Having a little
fun with LeBron James’ TV special announcing his decision to play for the Miami Heat, Tolliver made an online video dubbed “The Decision: Part Deux!!” in which he proclaims, “I will be taking my services to the north, the Minnesota Timberwolves.”
Duluth sportswriter Louie St. George last wrote about local baseball teams for the Duluth Budgeteer News. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.