Passion for game drives Penn State's Odrick

April, 21, 2009
4/21/09
11:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Jared Odrick had kept his cool through the first few weeks of spring ball, but during team drills last Monday, he lost it.

Penn State's offensive line was practicing a protection scheme where the center immediately moved over to help a guard double team a defensive tackle, in this case, Odrick. The center normally makes a check at the line before helping the guard, but not this time.

Odrick didn't see the double team coming, and subsequently paid the price on several plays.

He then turned into Mt. Odrick, a 6-foot-5, 306-pound volcano. 

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Jared Odrick is back to anchor the Penn State defensive line in 2009.

"I'm pointing the finger down at the ground and I'm yelling because I feel I could have done something more," Odrick said. "You could say on the field, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I'm very vocal about my play and whether I'm doing good or not.

"That's one thing I'm adamant about, being able to contribute all the time."

Odrick knows he has to limit such outbursts. He's a senior now, a national award candidate, the leader of Penn State's always-reloading defensive line.

He's no longer the fragile freshman who he says was "messing up left and right," but a veteran who knows what to do, and who usually does it extremely well.

Then again, Odrick wouldn't be the player he was without the fire inside. 

"Tough guy," Penn State safety Drew Astorino said. "He wants it a lot more than most people do."

Odrick's drive helped him earn first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches last fall, as Penn State won a share of the league title and reached the Rose Bowl. He recorded 41 tackles, 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, including a safety against Michigan that gave Penn State the lead for good and earned Odrick the Pontiac Game Changing Performance for the week. 

While linemates Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft, Odrick chose to return for his senior season. He'll enter the fall as a candidate for the Lombardi Award and possibly the Outland Trophy.

"Odrick's a top-notch football player," Lions head coach Joe Paterno said. "He's one of the top players at that position, I don't know about the country, but in the league."  

For Odrick, simply maintaining the level of play he showed last fall isn't enough. He has devoted each spring practice to one or two techniques or ideas to elevate his game. 

One day he works on using his hands differently when engaging an offensive lineman. Another day he polishes his speed rush. The next day, the inside rush is on his agenda. 

It's all part of being the Lions' leader up front. 

"I don't like coining that name myself," Odrick said. "I do have guys older than me on the line. But at the same time, I do want to lead on the field and show other people how to play 100 percent, all the time."

From his perch in the secondary, Astorino marvels at Odrick's fortitude in the trenches.

"The defensive line might be the toughest [position] to go 100 percent every single snap and not take a play off," Astorino said. "Jared doesn't take a play off. He's a beast."

Odrick appeared in 12 games as a true freshman in 2006 before earning a starting spot at tackle as a sophomore. He started eight games in 2007 before a dislocated right ankle against Indiana ended his season. 

The Lebanon, Pa., native underwent surgery and entered last fall at 100 percent, though the questions about his health didn't go away. 

"Are you healthy? Are you going to be healthy? Are you 100 percent?" Odrick recalled being asked. "And I really felt that I was. Somebody had asked me about it and I said, 'I've been telling you guys for a couple of weeks that I'm 100 percent. You're the only the ones that think I'm not. And if I'm out there showing you that I'm not, let me know. Maybe I need to work on a few things.'"

By the end of the year, there was silence. Odrick had proven himself.

There were more inquiries, this time about whether he would leave early for the NFL draft. Odrick didn't mind these questions as much, and along with Maybin, he requested an evaluation from the NFL draft advisory board. 

"It feels good because you have that opportunity at your hand," he said. "But in the end, it was clear that I should stay and that I wanted to stay. The most important thing for me was just coming back and being able to produce and be a player who can play a role to change the game."

Odrick hit a speed bump Feb. 28, when he was cited for disorderly conduct after allegedly fighting with three Penn State students and another man outside an apartment building in State College. Odrick paid a fine and was not suspended from any spring practices. 

In an interview with ESPN.com last week, Odrick said he had been instructed not to discuss the incident but added, "Everything's straightened out, everything's cool."

Penn State loses a sizable senior class from 2008 and has depth issues at several positions, namely defensive back, offensive line and wide receiver. The defensive line would appear to be another question mark, as ends Maybin, Evans and Josh Gaines depart the team.

But accomplished line coach Larry Johnson returns after turning down a coordinator job at Illinois, and he's got his centerpiece in Odrick. Penn State fans aren't concerned about the line, and according to Odrick, they shouldn't be. 

"We've got the athletes to come in and fill those roles," he said. "I don't want anybody to have to worry about anything."

Except the guys on the other side of the ball. 

"He's the best D-lineman I've ever played against," Penn State center Stefen Wisniewski said of Odrick. "After blocking him, blocking other people on other teams seems pretty easy."

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