Southern ready for Dawson Odums’ first season opener

At the request of coach Dawson Odums, members of the Southern football squad attended services at New Hope Baptist Church this Sunday.

“They invited us to attend,” Odums said. “We are a community football team, and we want the community to know that they can be a part of what’s going on here. We loved being there, and I thank the church for having our football team there.”

While not considered mandatory, the majority of the team attended the service.

“It was a relaxed environment,” quarterback Dray Joseph said. “It was a team-bonding experience. It was a terrific experience for the team.”

Could it be the first of many in Odums’ first full season as head coach?

As Friday night’s game at Houston arrives, Odums gets his first chance to show what he can do after having the interim tag removed from his title this past winter, when he signed a two-year contract. But this is not the first time in Odums’ career that he has gone from interim to head coach.

In 2004, Odums took over the program at Clark Atlanta. After two seasons there, he realized the situation was not right for him, and it was time to move on.

“The first experience, I learned to walk away from a job that I knew they weren’t going to do it right,” Odums said. “That’s the most important thing. Because regardless of what you do or how you do it, it takes a total commitment to change. That’s what I believe in, and that’s what I’m about.”

In between the lines, Odums is an intense, attention-to-detail, disciplinarian coach who has great respect among his players.

“(Odums) enables you to be able to play at your best,” Joseph said. “To be able to excel because you know that, no matter what happens, he has your back. No matter how well or how bad you perform that game, he’s going to be the same guy regardless.”

Odums began his coaching career at Crest High School in Shelby, N.C. — his alma mater — to work under head coach Mike Stewart. Odums said Stewart was instrumental in the early stages of his life.

“He was like a father to me and all of his players,” Odums said. “My father left me when I was 9 years old, but I had a good community base.”

Southern receivers coach Chris Coleman, also a Crest High graduate, has fond memories of their high school days together.

“Coach Odums was a quarterback in high school,” Coleman said with a laugh. “He had a big arm. But more importantly, he was a leader in the locker room, a leader on the field. He was always that guy that you looked up to and respected.”

Odums also credits his college coach at North Carolina Central, Hall of Famer Larry Little, as being a mentor.

“He was instrumental to me and helping me get to where I am today,” Odums said.

Odums came to Southern in 2011 after spending the previous three seasons at North Carolina A&T. Offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Chennis Berry spent two seasons with Odums at A&T; during their tenure together, Berry recognized that Odums would make a terrific head coach one day.

“He has great leadership qualities,” Berry said. “He’s organized, disciplined and structured — all the things necessary to be a head coach. I knew from the first day that I met him, through the relationship that we developed, that he was going to be a head coach one day.”

After he was given the job in January, Odums reached out to Coleman and Berry, attempting to lure them to The Bluffs.

“When I got the phone call, knowing the type of guy he is and knowing where he’s been and his vision for the program, it was an easy decision for me,” Coleman said. “I just wanted to come here and help fulfill his vision for the program.”

It was an equally easy decision for Berry.

“I didn’t even think twice,” he said.

Even with the opportunity before him, Odums was selfless in describing his excitement level heading into Friday night’s opener.

“I don’t get excited for myself,” he said. “I’m more excited for the seniors that are trying to get their first winning season. That’s basically what I’m all about. I work hard for them. I want what’s right for them. I could care less about myself.

“These guys have sacrificed so much to give this school their time and dedication to try and move this football program forward. That’s what I’m excited for.”