Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
In a defense torn up by injuries, the constant has been Phil Odell.
The Fort Lewis College senior linebacker has been as steady as they come, not only this year, as a defense beset by injuries looks for much-needed continuity, but for the last four.
The proof is in the numbers.
Odell leads FLC and is eighth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference with an 8.7 tackles-per-game average and 52 total, becoming just the seventh Skyhawk to top the 300-tackle plateau.
He led FLC last year with 101 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
He led FLC in tackles and was third in the RMAC as a sophomore with 84.
Admittedly, part of that tackling prodigiousness has to do with his position. But it’s also got plenty to do with the Show Low, Ariz., native’s dedication to film work and a motor that hasn’t gone unnoticed by head coach Cesar Rivas-Sandoval.
“Now he’s just really trying to take his game to another level and make those around him better, and he has, but it’s tough for guys like him ... when the pieces are kind of falling off a bit from kind of the injury perspective where you have the chance to be better, but the stars aren’t lining up that way right now,” Rivas said.
Comfort level has a lot to do with it this year. Since his freshman year, Odell has bounced around between safety and every linebacker position available, filling gaps whenever and wherever the coaching staff and his team needed.
This year, he’s found a permanent home in the middle of the Skyhawks’ defense, and he couldn’t be more thrilled.
“It’s been real nice; I’m not going to lie about that. It’s been real nice,” Odell said. “I can focus on what I need to do. ... Coming out the end of the week, I know exactly where I’m going to fit (within the defense).”
But his worth to the Skyhawks, despite their winless record to date, isn’t necessarily best measured statistically.
With the defensive backfield and already-thin defensive line struggling with the injury bug, not to mention a lack of size, Odell has been the anchor, with Rivas calling him “our Tim Jenkins on defense” in a nod to the Skyhawks’ prolific starting quarterback.
Odell’s also been instrumental in the development of younger linebackers, such as sophomore Andrew Kline and redshirt freshman Dakota Kay, among others.
Kaulana Waalani-Arroyo, who like Odell moved from defensive back to linebacker this season, said Odell’s love of film work has rubbed off, and playing alongside the senior gives him an added level of comfort.
“First thing he does is just make life easier by being Phil,” said Waalani-Arroyo, grinning underneath the bars of his facemask. “He does a lot of things, knowing the fact that he can cover and fill holes just as good.”
Odell, for his part, said that playing alongside a younger crop of linebackers has been a revelation, a reminder of a time not so long ago when he was the carefree youngster just looking for someone to hit and hit hard.
As a senior, he’s hoping to make a drastic turnaround as FLC hits the final four games of its schedule – starting at 1 p.m. today against winless Western State at Ray Dennison Memorial Field – but not just for himself and his fellow seniors.
“That’s four wins on this season, but starting out as far as turning this program around on the right direction, that means they’re starting out 4-0 going into next season,” Odell said. “For these younger guys, that’d just be a boost that I can’t even explain for them.”