BY JEFF FALK
Milestones have a very profound way of bringing things into perspective. They afford us an opportunity to take stock of the way things are, the way things have been and the way things could be.
As funny as it may seem, Lebanon’s Jared Odrick is approaching a milestone in his football playing days. Or perhaps a better way to think of it is that the 26-year-old Odrick has been playing football, at one level or another, for the better part of 14 years.
He has probably played more football than he will in the future. And while Odrick is in the best physical shape of his life, the residual effects of a violent game have a way of taking their toll on a human body.
“You think you navigate that in college, but you really don’t,” said Odrick, who was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year during his senior season of 2009 at Penn State. “I always went to school to go to school and to learn how to learn. But since I was a young kid, I wanted to be a professional athlete. I think a lot of professional athletes have a singular focus to ‘get there’. I’m kind of taking my blinders off in the off-season. There’s a learning process that goes into it. I’m trying to spread myself out to see what I want to do.”
Now no one is saying that the former Lebanon High standout is going to retire any time soon. For his part, Odrick has never seriously thought about the ‘when’, as much as the ‘what’ when he does.
But facing a contract year has a way of bringing the big picture into focus.
Odrick, who was taken by the Miami Dolphins with the 28th overall pick in the NFL draft, signed a five-year, $13 million contract in 2010. Since then, the 6-5 305-pound end has evolved into a solid and effective contributor in Miami’s defensive front rotation, and from all indications, Dolphin management has been pleased with Odrick’s hard work, on-field and locker room presence, his versatility and his overall evolution as a player.
While Odrick declined to specifically comment on impending negotiations with Miami, he did acknowledge that there was mutual interest in the possibility of an eventual contract extension.
“Right now there’s nothing other than I have the last year of my contract left to fill,” said Odrick. “I have one year left. It’s a big year left for me to improve, and to prove I belong in the league and that I can be a productive player. I love this franchise dearly, and we have a lot more work to do. And I’m one of the guys responsible for getting us to the playoffs.”
After a pair of injuries claimed his rookie year, Odrick has posted 101 total tackles 15.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception for the Dolphins over the past three seasons. Miami, which missed the 2013 playoffs by a loss in its regular season finale, will conduct its spring practice next month.
“It’s been a great experience, going down there and just the change of scenery from Pennsylvania.” said Odrick of his four years in Miami. “In terms of being a Dolphin, I love being a Dolphin. But obviously a job comes along with that. It’s been a learning experience and it’s been a fun experience.
“It’s flown by,” added Odrick. “There’s times when you feel like you’ve just gotten into the league. But the last two years, I sort of felt like a veteran, mostly times when you’re helping other guys figure out what to do. It’s flying by, and you try to make everything worth it.”
To the untrained eye, there’s not a lot of difference between Jared Odrick the rookie and Jared Odrick the veteran. But because he’s very hard on himself, critiquing his own play comes easily to Odrick.
“Being drafted in the first round puts you on the field in a shorter amount of time,” said Odrick. “And the expectations and stakes are higher. When I watch myself on film or assess my performance in practice, you want to see consistency. In terms of doing things on the field, you want to do good things, and you want to do them all the time. There’s times I make plays, and there’s other times I think I could’ve made more impactful plays.
“Where I could improve is playing decisively,” continued Odrick. “From high school to college to the pros, it’s been a change of pace at each level. There’s an adjustment period. What coaches tell you is not to think. But it’s not thinking too long. The obvious answer to where I’ve improved would be maturing. But maturing is just a series of experiences. The maturity level, and just growing. I’ve grown so much off the field, and all those things go into making you a good pro.”
While his crystal ball is as murky as anyone else’s, Odrick can envision himself playing professional football for another five to ten years. That would allow him plenty of time to ascend to new personal heights, something he has done at every level he has played.
“Of course I have career goals,” said Odrick. “A general goal is getting to Hawaii and going to a Pro Bowl. It’s something I really want to accomplish. I feel really good about this year. But it’s all about the work I’ve put in. Cam (fellow Dolphin defensive lineman, Wake) offered to pay for everyone’s trip to the Pro Bowl this year because he felt like he couldn’t have done it without their help. I tried to figure out a respectful way to decline the gift, because I want to get there myself.
“I think about things past football, but I don’t ever think about retiring,” Odrick continued. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out here and now. A double-digit (number of years) career would be something I’d like to accomplish. But I don’t know how I’m going to feel when I hit year eight or year nine.”
But after football, Odrick would like to do something more than anything. He’d like to do something, something impactful. While he hasn’t quite gotten that part figured out yet, he has a yearning to improve his hometown of Lebanon, perhaps by helping kids.
Last summer, he hosted the inaugural Jared Odrick Invitational to aid military personnel, police officers firefighters and first responders. The second installment of a similar event is set for June 21, but at a site, destination and for a charity yet to be determined.
“There’s future endeavors I’d definitely like to be a part of, as far as improving the Lebanon community,” said Odrick. “But I don’t want to make bold moves. I want to put time and effort into it, and hook up with the right people and make efficient decisions.
“The thing is, there’s a lot of things I want to do when I come across opportunities,” concluded Odrick. “When you’re an NFL player you have a name and a voice, and I think you come across more opportunities. But there’s nothing I can do before I do my job. Once I get to a certain plateau, I want to reach back, and I want to do it wholeheartedly. The golf tournament is just the tip of the iceberg.”