Jonathan Odom details his return to the field after suffering an ACL tear in December

It’s been a long and tough journey for the former 2020 Florida commit after suffering an ACL tear against Oregon State at the end of last season.

Jonathan Odom saw his most action last season, appearing in nine games totaling seven receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. Odom was just starting to catch fire at the end of the year, recording five of those receptions for 63 yards in the final two games of the 2022 season.

The Tampa native remained positive throughout the entire rehab process. With a great support system and training staff around him, Odom knew that he’d get another opportunity if he worked hard enough to get healthy.

“It was just tough in all aspects, you know, especially, I mean, god bless if it had to happen at some point it happened, you know, very end of the season,” Odom said. “So, it gave me a light at the end of the tunnel that ‘hey, there’s an opportunity for me if I work hard enough to be able to, to work hard enough where I can get back to the first game.”

The junior quickly gained an optimistic mindset over the injury, but it wasn’t easy. With help from family and the people around him, Odom quickly realized that it could’ve been much worse.

“Probably when I was in the tunnel at Allegiant Stadium,” Odom said on when he started being optimistic. “You know, at first it was like, my world was crashing down, but then my parents came down and my, you know, my mom’s always having me look on the bright side of things and be like, you know, look, it could have happened FSU game, or in the middle this season. You know, it happened when it did, you got to, you know, got to play the back half of the season, and you know, you’ll get an opportunity if you do what the trainers say, and, you know, take it serious, day by day, and you’ll have opportunity to play coming up next season.”

Having family around you in those moments can really change your perspective on the situation as a player.

Odom’s parents traveled throughout the year for multiple games. Having them there in that moment played a big role in his recovery during rehab.

“When something like that happens, you don’t want anybody else around you besides the people you grew up with in your family, and, because those moments are really tough. Unfortunately, I’ve had to experience a few of them, but when you go through that, you don’t want anyone else there besides your family, because they always seem to have the right things to say, especially your mom. That was a tough, a tough moment,” Odom said on having his family around him. “Them being there for me and always being there for me is really important.”

It’s always a positive when your dad is a former player and has experienced all kinds of injuries at the highest level. The entire rehab process was a lot quicker and less stressful for Odom having a former player as a father.

“To have someone like that in your corner who’s been at the highest level, done it here, did it Tampa Bay, and also experienced all the injuries,” Odom said on his father. “It’s part of sports. That happens. This is a violent sport. I feel like anyone who’s played in any type of high level of the sport, you’re going to experience that one way or another. I feel like having the people around you, especially someone like that, being able to coach you through it, taking step by step. Little victories were the most important thing I felt. I can walk now, or I can get my knee past 90 degrees. Those little victories were a big part, and he helped me kind of realize that. Taking it step by step, day by day, victory by victory. It makes the total time shorten down.”

The next step was figuring out how to trust his knee coming off an injury. Rehab plays a role, but you never know how that knee is going to feel until you’re back and playing in a game setting.

“I feel like that comes to rehab, but to be completely honest, you can’t really get that feeling until you’re in a game setting,” Odom said. “You can scrimmage, you can practice but until you’re flying 100 miles an hour, and the people around me don’t care about me and my knee. I mean, everyone here knows what I went through, knows that my knee is hurt. So, they’re probably not going to come and wipe out my legs as I run down the sideline. But when you go into the game, they don’t care. They don’t they see, ‘Look at that knee brace. Let’s get it.’ And for me to be able to compete and finish the game and just play, I’m just happy and blessed just to be out there. From the moment I stepped on the field. And that’s kind of kind of my mindset going into this entire season. I’m going to do my absolute best for the team, and I’m just ecstatic that I’m able to be out there and contribute.”

Odom has experienced many prior injuries in his football career and knows the job isn’t finished just because he is back and playing. Rehab is a long process and building that strength back is the last step.

“I’m still getting stronger day by day” Odom said on the strength of his knee. “I mean, just little things like weight room things, still trying to build the strength and continue. It’s not, ‘Hey, I got through a game now. I’m done. I’m good,’ by any means. There are still some more steps. Getting out of the brace, things like that, and getting more comfortable with it, and just those type of things. I feel like can be good for moral standpoint and just for me as a whole to feel more comfortable.”

With rehab in its final stages and Odom back on the field, small victories like catching his first pass after injury isn’t what’s important for the junior tight end. This team and its players are focused on the bigger picture.

In the moment, that wasn’t really going through my head about the victory. First off, when I catch the ball, I’m not thinking cut or anything like that. I’m trying to go forward and run over somebody, but after the game it was it was a real full circle moment to realize that I just completed a full game that quick of a time after that injury. The worst goes through your mind after something like that,” Odom said. “You’re lying on the field in Vegas and you’re like, ‘Oh, this could be it.’ You don’t know what’s going on.”

“The game itself I was not happy with. The small victory, and that personally for me, was that I proved to myself that I can play, but as a team and as a competitor on the field as the University of Florida, I felt that was unacceptable,” Odom said on the Utah loss. “But you know, we’re trying to turn the page. We are going to turn the page and we’re focused on McNeese State this week and plan the best Gator football we can play. Not playing selfish. Not one side playing against the other side. Offense, defense and special teams playing together and not letting Florida beat Florida this week. Just putting it all together and playing a complete game and dominating.”

Odom hauled in four receptions for 46 yards in his first game back in the Orange and Blue, setting his career high and the most yards by a Gators’ tight end since October 2nd, 2022, vs. Eastern Washington (Keon Zipperer, 47).

Jonathan Odom will get his first career start as a Florida Gator this weekend when McNeese State travels to Gainesville. This weekend’s game could be a big opportunity for the tight end to make a bold statement in week two.

Gentry Hawk
Gentry Hawk is a student at the University of Florida studying sports journalism. He is a writer and reporter for GatorCountry. You can find most of his work on Twitter @gentryhawkgc, or right here on Gator country.