Born in Kenya and virtually anonymous in Texas, Rees Odhiambo is BSU’s most recent find on the offensive line.
BOISE — To look at him now, it’s difficult to imagine the description Rees Odhiambo’s high school coach gives of his first meeting with the Boise State football team’s new right tackle — just five years ago.
“He was the most non-athletic looking kid in the P.E. class, but he was the biggest,” said Chris Melson, the coach at Mansfield (Texas) Legacy High. “I definitely wanted to see what he could do out on the field.”
Melson asked Odhiambo to try out for football and placed him on the junior varsity B team — two levels below varsity. One year later, Odhiambo started on varsity. Two years later, he drew his lone scholarship offer from Boise State.
And today, he is a nimble, powerful, 6-foot-4, 307-pound sophomore who squatted a team-best 585 pounds last spring.
The transformation began in the offseason between Odhiambo’s first and second years of football, going into his junior year.
“He had no idea about football, he had no idea about contact, he had no strength,” Melson said.
“After school, he came down every day, I mean every day, by himself, and was lifting (weights), listening to his headset. You could see the potential.”
Odhiambo couldn’t. He didn’t have a vision of where his foray into football would lead, but he liked the game.
“I just kind of went with it,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what would come out of it. Because the first time I started playing, it was really hard.”
His story fits well in a difficult-to-explain list of success stories among Boise State offensive tackles.
The Broncos have sent a string of obscure recruits to the NFL at that position — Matt Hill (Grangeville High), Daryn Colledge (North Pole, Alaska), Ryan Clady (a defensive lineman from Rialto, Calif.) and Nate Potter (Timberline High).
Odhiambo (pronounced OH-dee-AHM-bow) comes from a likely place — the Dallas suburbs — but traveled an unlikely path to Boise.
He was born in Kenya. He moved to Texas with his mom and sister at age 7 so his mom could pursue a career as a pharmacist. She became a chemist.
His mom died when he was a junior in high school, leaving Odhiambo and his younger sister to live with an uncle in nearby Arlington. A Legacy assistant coach drove Odhiambo to school and back every day so he wouldn’t need to transfer — a 17-stoplight drive.
“It never slowed him down a lick,” Melson said. “He was raised by a great mother. She instilled a lot of great values in him. … He’s been kind of amazing to watch.”
Odhiambo’s Boise State teammates have raved about his work habits. He won an award for his performance in the weight room as a true freshman and made the Academic All-Mountain West team as a redshirt freshman.
“It’s something my mom always taught me to have,” Odhiambo said of his work ethic, “and it just kind of increased when I realized I have nothing to fall back on. I’ve just tried to do the best I can with the opportunity I’ve been given.”
Former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease found Odhiambo for the Broncos. About 100 schools visited Legacy in 2010, Melson said, because of one high-profile recruit.
He suggested they look at Odhiambo, too.
“(The Broncos) liked him,” Melson said. “They watched him and they kept watching him. … Most other colleges would say, ‘Does he have any other offers?’ I’d say no and they’d move on.
“Boise never asked that question.”
Coaches liked his size, of course. But they also were attracted to Odhiambo’s athleticism — a dormant trait unleashed by all that extra training — and personality.
“He is a top-notch kid,” Boise State offensive line coach Chris Strausser said. “He has had a lot of adversity in his life and he is a great kid.”
Odhiambo redshirted in 2011 and served as the backup right tackle in 2012.
Odhiambo slid into the vacant spot on the first-team line in the spring and has done nothing but impress since.
“When a guy looks the part, works hard, does the right things — it starts to generate buzz,” coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s now got to go out and produce. We’re hopeful and we think he’s going to, and we’re excited to watch his progression.”
Odhiambo — with quick feet and strong hands to go with that explosive lower-body strength — already is one of the best run blockers on the team. Like most young players, he’s still learning the finer points of pass blocking.
He also needs to even his play.
“In order for him to be the type of player we know he can be, he needs to play with some consistency,” Strausser said. “Physically, he’s got a lot of talent. He’s got as much talent probably as most linemen we’ve ever had here. To come out here and have a really solid play, probably three plays in a row, and have a bust on the next play, that’s not going to get him where he wants to go. So I think consistency is the name of the game for him.”
Odhiambo understands the situation he’s in.
He has the inside track to the starting job. He doesn’t have it won.
“I feel like I’m progressing on the right path,” he said. “I just don’t think I’m quite where I want to be, but as the years go by I’ve gotten better.”
Watch Odhiambo (No 71) here in this VIDEO