Ron Cohen was already about halfway through his 31-year run as George Washington’s football coach and as a health and physical education teacher when he first met Andre Odom, who showed up at Washington as a 14-year-old freshman.
Already, Cohen had coached and taught thousands, but Odom stood out.
“He was very attentive,” said Cohen. “Most kids are fairly attentive to their head coach or assistant coaches, but you could just see something special about him.”
Cohen, a legendary coach who compiled a record of 261-84-2 at Washington while winning 12 Public League Championships, was right.
Odom, 34, has emerged from a very challenging and difficult childhood in innercity Philadelphia to become a sports agent with Athletes First, one of the powerhouse firms in a very competitive industry.
Last year, Athletes First represented 19 of the first 62 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft and has several clients that will be first-round picks in the 2021 draft, including Micah Parsons and Kyle Pitts as well as Andre Cisco, Jayson Oweh, and Mark Webb.
Athletes First also counts among its clients Fletcher Cox, the standout Eagles defensive tackle.
Along the way, Odom spent time as a graduate assistant football coach at Temple University where he received both his undergraduate and master’s degrees, has worked in the corporate world as a bank’s branch manager, and in the front office of the Chicago Bears.
He said becoming an agent just felt like a natural progression.
“I literally never wanted to be an agent,” said Odom. “There was always a negative connotation attached to being an agent. When I got to Temple being around all the coaches there, they used to have such a negative stigma attached to being an agent.
“Then when I got the opportunity to leave coaching and go into a front office, I had an opportunity to potentially be an agent then because I always had agents reaching out to me, because I always have a lot of relationships with players, whether it was my peers, whether it was the younger guys as I got older. That was always kind of the things I’ve been kind of good at, building, sustaining a meaningful relationship, and not just with players, but people in general.”
An important relationship Odom forged was with Cliff Stein, who is the senior VP and General Counsel with the Bears. Before the promotion, Stein had been Chicago's lead the lead salary cap negotiator in Chicago, a job he held when he helped Odom get hired by the Bears.
Stein is a graduate of George Washington as well as Temple, though he was at both schools before Odom.
“He really gave me a lot of good information and connected me with some good people,” said Odom. “He’s like my uncle. If I don’t meet Cliff, maybe I don’t get the Chicago job. Something I always tell people - relationships are worth more than money.”
It’s that philosophy that guides Odom in his dealing with clients.
He believes in telling it like it is, not just telling athletes just what they want to hear, keeping it real with them, giving them honesty rather than hollow promises.
“He’s not the kind of agent that’s typical,” said Cohen. “A lot of them are BS guys, promise these kids the world. I have a couple of kids who are NFL players (that Cohen coached), and they get promised the world. (Some agents) are out there for one thing to make money for themselves.”
Odom’s background helped shape his beliefs he uses in his job.
As a young boy growing up in North Philadelphia, he had two paths from which to choose.
One would have been easy to take but led to nothing good.
The other was more narrow, more challenging.
His mother and father weren’t in the picture. He was raised by his grandmother and basically on his own by the age of 14.
It was then that Odom arrived at George Washington, not exactly around the corner from his home in North Philly, and required boarding a 5:15 a.m. SEPTA bus to be in homeroom before 7:30, but it was where he came in contact with Cohen.
“What a special young man Andre is," said Cohen. "He has a story that shows the American way. He would never give up. He just wouldn’t do it.
"He was the kind of young man, he understood that there was more than just playing the game of football and what we were trying to teach was about life.”
Cohen helped produce five NFL players, including Odom’s good friend at Washington, future Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McLain, but more importantly, he was a father figure to thousands, including Odom.
“That man saved my life,” said Odom, who refers to Cohen as dad, and the two talk at least once a month.
“When he took me under his wing, I was already out there doing God knows what with God knows who, but he put his arm around me and said, ‘Look, you have options, you can take this route right here or you can continue on that road right there.’ Fortunately for me, I chose wisely.”
Odom, who played running back and defensive back at Washington before a back injury ended his career in college, has a knack for making good decisions, not just as a youth, but all the way through adulthood.
A father of three, he chose to leave the comfort of being a bank branch manager to be a GA at Temple, where he did not earn a paycheck.
“If you have the opportunity to maximize your skillset or catapult yourself to that level in life where you want to be, you can’t worry about the money,” he said. “The money will come. That’s the easy part. The toughest part is actually getting the opportunity. A lot of people don’t take that leap of faith.”
Odom has taken that leap of faith more than once in his life, proving Cohen right, that there is something very special about him.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.