GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Young Jonathan Odom wore an orange shirt, khaki shorts and tennis shoes as he ran around the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in a playful one-on-one game 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.
This day was different, though. The stands were empty. The grass was freshly cut. And other kids were running around in the background.
With the football tucked into his chest and protected by a tiny arm, Jonathan took it to the end zone. As Jonathan and Jason faced off under the Florida sun, their family photographed the moment.
With a press of a button, the picture froze a moment that would later be repeated: a Jonathan Odom touchdown.
Now, fast forward to Nov. 12 in Florida’s 38-6 win against South Carolina. The Odom family has another keepsake moment, one that more than 89,000 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium witnessed.
Jonathan scored in the very same end zone.
A lot has changed as days dropped from the calendar
Jonathan’s feet are much larger. He’s taller. He’s older. And, like his father when he starred for the Gators in the mid-1990s, Jonathan is wearing a Gators uniform.
The score came on a third-and-2 play on which the UF quarterback Anthony Richardson play-faked and rolled right. He lobbed a short pass to Odom, who caught the ball, turned, and strolled 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 at UF, and for four years in the NFL, he understood what was happening before it came to fruition.
“I saw the play forming, and I stood up ’cause I knew that he was going to be open,” Jason said this week.
And there Jonathan was, wide open after Richardson faked a handoff to the running back Montrell Johnson Jr. A third-year sophomore tight end, Jonathan rocked the all-blue No. 87 Florida jersey across the goal line as fans roared into the night.
He then danced on the same piece of real estate he scored on as a young boy.
“It’s a really surreal moment,” Jonathan said.
In Florida’s final home game of the season, Odom’s score extended the Gators’ lead to 31-6 over the Gamecocks. Florida’s sideline gathered around the 6-foot-5, 237-pound 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 sideline in his team’s most dominant performance of the season.
“There might be a common misconception that Napier’s not a funny guy,” Jonathan Odom said. “He’s real serious. He tells us he wants us to go crazy. 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 a result of a forced fumble from the defensive lineman Desmond Watson where the crowd went crazy, and Florida’s sideline spilled onto the field.
It’s a turn of events Odom will remember for a long time.
“We had all the momentum. Des, me, everyone. You just take over momentum. We’ve been on the other side of that before, I know how that feels. When we’ve lost games, see guys on the sideline celebrating , like, ‘man I wish. I wish that could be us.’ “
Odom planned to give the touchdown ball to his family, a signature moment in his young career of highs and lows since arriving from Jesuit High in Tampa.
Odom has wondered at times if there would be a moment like that as he endured on-and-off injuries for the past three years.
Odom was redshirted in 2020 after four games and then appeared in eight games in 2021, playing primarily on special teams and as a reserve tight end. Finally, healthy and in the rotation, Odom experienced one of those moments he envisioned when he joined the Gators.
He danced to show his journey of overcoming adversity, enduring struggles and facing disappointment. He kept at it, his resiliency not lost on his teammates.
“He’s just been waiting on his opportunity and it finally came,” Gators center Kingsley Eguakun said. “And I’m happy that he was able to take full advantage of that. He’s worked for it, so when he got in the game, I really wasn’t expecting anything less from him.”
Odom was ready for the opportunity that was presented. While fans saw the touchdown and celebration, they didn’t see the sacrifice, the hard work, the setbacks and the struggle.
His father did. Jason has been a rock for his son through all the ups and downs. The moment Jonathan took it to the house, no one was happier than Jason Odom.
“To have that moment culminate in a game that matters, in a time that matters, was just an incredible moment for us,” Jason said. “It was one of the closest-to-best moments of our lives as parents, getting to see him kind of fulfill one of his dreams.”
A dream fulfilled for Jonathan and a journey he continues to conquer to reach his final destination.
Perhaps one day, both Gators – Jonathan and Jason – will share a space to place the memorabilia collected during their successful playing careers.