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All Is Not Lost for the Huskies If Odunze Has a Hand in Things

The freshman wide receiver had his coming-out party last weekend against UCLA.

Rome Odunze sits down earlier in the week to do his first media interview as a member of the University of Washington football team, impishly looks into the camera and offers, "Hi mom."

The local football factory typically goes to great pains to shield its newer players from the journalism hordes early on, fearful they either lack the maturity or the nerve to answer rapid-fire questions from strangers.

Yet Odunze, a second-year freshman wide receiver from Las Vegas, demonstrated over 15 insightful minutes that he should have been given his own radio talk show the day he walked on campus. 

He's bright, cheerful, loquacious. A natural in front of an audience. An NIL agreement waiting to happen.

For all of the negativity surrounding this 2-4 Husky team that plays at Arizona on Friday night, Odunze is a lifeline to better days, maybe the best player on Jimmy Lake's roster. He's one of the reasons the UW stumbled out of the gate, missing the first three games with an unspecified injury.

Fans have been fearful that these stagnant times combined with more liberal transfer portal provisions might cause someone such as Odunze, a highly skilled 6-foot-3, 200-pound pass-catcher, to go elsewhere. One of his family members even teased that possibility on social media. He cleared the air.

"I'm happy to be a Dawg, for sure; I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," Odunze said. "I love the culture here, the people, I love the fans. I'm just excited to put more into it, honestly. I think it's a challenge to be down 2-4 and to have these opportunities to come. 

"It's really a test of who we are as a team, who we are as a culture and who we are as a family, and what we're going to do — we're all in this together."

Rome Odunze celebrates a victory over Cal with Husky fans.

Rome Odunze celebrates with Husky fans after a win over Cal.

While touted Husky edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui made his much-celebrated return against UCLA last weekend from an Achilles tear, Odunze had his season debut two games earlier after recovering from his injury.

However, the Bruins game was just as much of a coming-out party for Odunze as it was for the player known as ZTF. The receiver made his first start of the season, caught the first touchdown pass of his Husky career and just missed out on another score.

"You see the intensity and how dynamic he is on the field," UW tight end Cade Otton said. "You can tell he's been playing big-time football for a while and he's like ready to make plays."

In the second quarter, the rangy pass-catcher — think tall like DK Metcalf, only lighter — got behind the UCLA secondary and hauled in a 26-yard TD strike from Dylan Morris. 

Earlier in the game, Odunze caught a 17-yard pass from Morris that he hauled down to the Bruins 2 before getting shoved out of bounds. He felt he should have scored there, too.

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Typical of this incomplete season for the Huskies, they lost 24-17 to UCLA to further discourage their fan base, but not the receiver.

"It's frustrating because I definitely think Washington has a history of success," Odunze said. "We want to emplify and portray that in our games, and come out and dominate opponents. It's a hard game."

Rome Odunze practices with an equipment bag over his head for better concentration.

Rome Odunze wears an equipment bag in practice to help with his concentration on catching passes. 

This Rome wasn't built in a day. In spite of the unexpected Husky despair, Odunze presents himself at all times as a fun-loving personality. 

He blew kisses to his mom in the stands after his breakthrough touchdown catch against the Bruins.

He enthusiastically slapped hands down a long line of students in the end zone following the UW's 31-24 overtime victory over California. 

He took a piggyback ride to practice one day on the back of freshman center Geirean Hatchett. 

Finally, he often wears an equipment bag netting over his head in those daily workouts to help him focus on catching balls. 

Rome Odunze gets a piggyback ride to practice from Geirean Hatchett.

Rome Odunze gets a piggyback ride to practice from Geirean Hatchett. 

Odunze, who has 10 receptions for 134 yards in his half season, provides Husky heroics, hands and hope. 

"We harp on adversity here a lot," he said. "Life is adversity. What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. I like to live by that."

If a guy like this can have so much fun while losing, imagine what might happen to Odunze when the UW begins winning again.

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