Jasen Oden is a football player in every sense of the word.
Sure, he puts on the pads and helmet along with the rest of his Colorado State teammates and attends practices, weight training and film sessions each day. But Oden exemplifies the word versatility, a trait that is becoming less common as athletes begin to focus solely on one sport, and likely one position in that particular sport.
After starring as a running back at Buffalo East High School in New York, Oden attended prep school at North Carolina Tech where he intercepted a single-season school record seven passes, four of which he returned for touchdowns.
Then it was on to Colorado State, where during his first two seasons as a Ram, Oden appeared in 25 games at safety, starting two. During that time, Oden recorded 64 tackles while forcing three fumbles and intercepting one pass. And while it looked like Oden would compete for the starting safety job this spring, plans changed when head coach Jim McElwain intimated that he would like Oden to try his hand at running back again.
After all, with the loss of star running back Kapri Bibbs to the NFL and senior Chris Nwoke to graduation, the Rams were hurting in the backfield. That’s when McElwain noticed Oden’s athleticism and believed he could provide depth behind projected starter Donnell Alexander.
“One of the things we do in the offseason is rank our guys one to 70,” McElwain said. “It doesn’t matter what position, just by best football players. What you find out is you might have a jam of your 20 best guys as backups and we wanted to find a spot for our best guys to play in.”
The learning curve for Oden hit G-Force speeds when Alexander left the program after the first of 15 spring practices, citing personal reasons. That left Oden, who hadn’t played running back in more than three years, competing for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at running back with redshirt freshman Bryce Peters and walk-on Eric Williams.
This past Saturday, Oden got to show off his running ability in the Rams’ second scrimmage of the spring after being held out due to injury during the Rams first live-action scrimmage a week earlier.
And boy, did he impress.
Running with the first-team offense, Oden carried the ball 15 times for 69 yards including two touchdown runs inside the 2-yard line. Despite his almost two years of experience on the defensive side of the ball, Oden’s former defensive mates had no issue trying to get a good lick in on him.
“We had a friendly bet (on defense) to see who could hit him the hardest or get the best tackle on him,” defensive back Trent Matthews said. “It was just a little friendly fire back and forth, but he ran hard out there and it was pretty tough to get a good angle on him.”
However, Oden doesn’t yet classify himself as a running back, simply as an athlete who will do whatever it takes to make his team successful.
“I’m just a football player, man,” Oden said very matter-of-factly while cracking a smile. “I can play on both sides of the ball but right now I’m just going in there at running back and trying to learn the plays while still knowing what’s happening on the defensive said in case they need me over there.”
With Oden’s combination of size, speed and toughness, you can bet McElwain will have him on the field this fall, wherever that may be.
Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.