Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

5 things to know about new 49ers S George Odum

Mar 18, 2022 at 2:42 PM--

The 49ers made their fifth free agent addition of the week on Friday with the signing of former Indianapolis Colts safety George Odum to a three-year contract.

Odum will provide the 49ers with some veteran depth in the secondary while also giving them another ace on special teams. He's taken a tough road to get to where he is, at one point having to deal with one of the worst tragedies any football player could possibly imagine.

Here are five things to know about the newest member of the 49ers.

Hey, I'm pretty good at this

According to a 2019 article from The Athletic, Odum, who grew up in Millington, Tennessee, lost his father when he was young, while his mother had difficulty making ends meet. Odum always loved football, but financial struggles forced him to give up the sport in middle school due to not being able to find transportation. He moved in with an aunt and uncle when he got to high school, then he got back into football after his team's coach offered to give him rides to practice. Eventually, Odum discovered he might actually be the best player on the team.

"When I got to high school I joined a ninth grade team," Odum told FloFootball in 2018. "We had like a little ninth grade league going into there, and I was like okay, I'm decent at this. I'm pretty good. Then I got to tenth grade and I beat out one of my best friend's brothers (at outside linebacker). I was like, okay, yeah. I think I can really handle this spot wherever I play on defense. Then I started playing offense, and I'm like yeah, I'm pretty much a dominant player... I'm better than pretty much everybody. Going forward then that's like yeah, I think I can go ahead. I think I can make that dream come true."

But before realizing that dream, Odum had to overcome an unimaginable nightmare.

An unfathomable tragedy

On August 21, 2012, during his senior year at Millington Central High School, Odum was in coverage during a routine practice play when he crossed paths with sophomore wide receiver Dana Payne. Payne ran into Odum's shoulder in what seemed to be a normal football collision, after which Payne got up from the turf. But then Payne fell to the ground and stopped breathing before catching his breath again after receiving CPR. Payne was taken to the hospital but passed away in the ambulance before he arrived.

According to a 2014 article from the Memphis Flyer, Payne was ruled to have died from bronchial asthma that was triggered in part by the contact to his chest he sustained during his collision with Odum.

Odum was devastated and informed his teammates he was quitting football. His teammates and family tried to get him to change his mind, but the only thing that caused him to keep going was a blessing and forgiveness from Payne's mother.

"She told me, 'It wasn't my fault,'" Odum told the Flyer. "She told me to keep playing."

Odum eventually moved on to a college career at Central Arkansas but always kept Payne in his thoughts. He honored Payne by writing his initials on his wrist tape, and he's is impacted by the incident when he makes contact at practice.

"It changed me," Odum told The Athletic. "To this day, I hate hitting my teammates. Some might come across the middle, and I don't wanna hit them."

Small college star

Odum shone brightly at Central Arkansas while playing a rover hybrid position, totaling 350 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two interceptions, 13 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, three blocked kicks, two touchdowns, and a safety. He won Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Southland Conference as a senior after totaling 120 tackles and four sacks.

"He brings some juice to this defense with his play-making ability," former Central Arkansas head coach Steve Campbell said in 2017, per KATV. "He's a smart guy, a savvy guy that's very explosive."

Odum ran a 4.45 40 at his Pro Day in 2018 but wound up going undrafted in the NFL Draft. He had a number of teams interested in him after the draft, but he liked what he saw at the safety position in Indianapolis, so he chose to start his career with the Colts.

Special teams impact

Odum turned out to be a find for the Colts as he played in all 65 regular season games (ten starts) in four years and totaled 150 tackles, two interceptions and four forced fumbles. He played on 982 snaps on defense for the Colts (with a career-high 471 snaps in 2021), but special teams was where he stood out in particular. Odum played 1301 total snaps on special teams and was selected as an AP All-Pro and a Pro Football Focus All-Pro in 2020 after leading the league with 20 special teams tackles.

"Colts special teams ace George Odum has been the best special teamer all season long, playing extensive snaps across five different phases of special teams play," wrote Sam Monson of PFF in 2021. "Odum notched 13 solo tackles and an assist without giving away a penalty."

Post-career plans

After Odum moved in with his aunt and uncle in high school, he was put to work helping out on his uncle's business and family farm. Odum told the Athletic in 2019 that he doesn't plan on stepping away from football until he can't find a team, but when he does, he's going to follow his uncle's footsteps down a similar business path.

"Mowing lawns, fixing houses, we're gonna do all of that," Odum said.

Hopefully Odum experiences several more successful NFL seasons before he gets to that chapter of his life. Perhaps they'll all come with the 49ers, if all goes well.

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