USF receiver DeVontres Odoms-Dukes a model of persistence in portal era

The Wharton High alumnus is enjoying a breakthrough in his fifth season.
USF senior receiver DeVontres Odom-Dukes leaps over a defender while trying to avoid being tackled in the Bulls' 44-24 loss to East Carolina on Oct. 10.
USF senior receiver DeVontres Odom-Dukes leaps over a defender while trying to avoid being tackled in the Bulls' 44-24 loss to East Carolina on Oct. 10. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Oct. 22, 2020

TAMPA — Patience is the first casualty of the portal era. Generally, if coaching regimes change or success doesn’t manifest itself with microwave briskness, the Generation Z wideout or weakside linebacker is inclined to transfer.

For the most part, the practice has become acceptable. Unless, of course, you were raised by a pair of retired U.S. Army sergeants whose foremost rule is to never, ever desert your outfit.

Which leads us to USF fifth-year senior receiver DeVontres Odoms-Dukes, the Bulls' rangy portrait of persistence.

“Having both parents with a military background, they teach us hard on not quitting,” said Odoms-Dukes, one of six kids in a blended family raised by Leslie and Marques Odoms, who met in the Army.

“That’s one thing my dad has always taught me since I started playing football in the third grade. I used to have a real bad habit of saying, ‘I’m done, I quit.’ He’d stay on me.”

Barely conspicuous the first four seasons of his USF career, which included two suspensions in 2018, Odoms-Dukes leads the Bulls (1-4, 0-3 American Athletic Conference) with 15 receptions, seven more than his career total entering 2020. His two touchdown catches in five contests double the number he amassed in his first four years.

“Oh man, it’s amazing,” said Marques Odoms, who retired as a sergeant first class after 23½ years in the Army. “It’s amazing because I know his journey, I know the route he’s been on, and I know his heart and what he wants to do.”

Related: Halfway through USF's football season, some significant questions linger

A 6-foot-6 former two-sport athlete at Pensacola High, Odoms saw the potential of his oldest son — but not the persistence — at a young age.

While stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., he registered Odoms-Dukes in an arena football league for preadolescents in nearby Fayetteville. A quarterback, Odoms-Dukes “got racked pretty good on one play” and began crying mildly.

He was taken to his father, who was at the wall separating the field from the stands. “He was like, 'Oh, I don’t want to play anymore,” Odoms recalled.

“I said, ‘We don’t cry. Football’s a man’s sport, toughen up. ... You’re going to play and you’re going to love it. Just go back out there and try a little harder.’

"He just looked at me and kind of shrugged it off, and he went back out and had a hell of a game. A hell of a game.”

When the family moved to New Tampa near the end of his sophomore year of high school, Odoms-Dukes enrolled at Wharton and stayed there the next two years, though the family soon realized more prosperous prep football programs existed nearby. As a senior, he had 41 catches for 780 yards and 14 touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to an 8-2 record.

He signed with Willie Taggart, redshirted as a USF freshman in 2016 and added 14 pounds of muscle.

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The thicker skin would come in handy during the Charlie Strong era.

After playing primarily on special teams in 2017, Odoms-Dukes was suspended the first seven games the following season. Though he won’t specify the reason, he insists it didn’t involve an off-field infraction or arrest.

“I’m not going to say any names or anything like that, but I just want to let it be known that I’m not one of those guys that suspended themselves based off making certain decisions off the field,” Odoms-Dukes said.

“I felt a certain way. I was a bit upset, could’ve handled it a lot better, but it is what it is. Coach Strong made some decisions and I got suspended for it, which I understand.”

Less understandable, at least to him, was the suspension that followed. Though he appeared in only one game (against Tulane) upon his return, Odoms-Dukes said he worked his way back up to the second-team offense and appeared to be in good standing as the Gasparilla Bowl neared, but was among 11 players suspended for the contest.

“It kind of upset me, because I thought I was doing all the right things I was supposed to do, staying out of trouble, making sure I wasn’t on any academic list, staying away from any drama or anything bad,” he said. “So I think that really like, took me by shock.”

Still, Odoms-Dukes stuck around. Reinstated in time for winter workouts in 2019, he won over Strong’s overhauled staff — including new offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell — with his work ethic, and appeared in all 12 games the following fall.

“I worked my butt off that spring,” Odoms-Dukes said, “and I just gained their respect back just by working every day.”

When Strong and the entire staff was let go at the end of the season, Odoms-Dukes seriously contemplated following them out the door. Even his dad thought it might be a good idea at that point, though Odoms offered one suggestion.

Talk to Scott first.

"I gave (Scott) a text, he shot me right back like, “Hey, meet me at this time on this day.'” Odoms-Dukes said. “That stood out to me right there that he was a straightforward guy.”

The two met for roughly 30 minutes in Scott’s second-floor office inside the Selmon Athletics Center. Odoms-Dukes acknowledged he had made mistakes in the past, but assured him he wouldn’t let the new staff down if given an opportunity. He also asked how he might be used, indicating his strengths were his size (6-foot-3 1/2) and physicality, not necessarily his fleetness.

“I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know anything about your past as far as performance here or anything, but I know one thing: You’re a big receiver,’” Scott said.

“'And I know in my past, we’ve had a lot of success with big wide receivers.' I just talked about, ‘Hey, life is full of new beginnings. And the great thing for you and all of your teammates is, regardless if your career up to this point has gone the way you wanted it to or not, you’re gonna get a fresh start.’”

Odoms-Dukes bought in, and graduated with his communications degree in May. On the first day of fall camp, when Scott asked all the offensive players to write the name of the teammate they consider the biggest leader, Odoms-Dukes got the most votes of any offensive guy.

Of the 11 Bulls suspended prior to the Gasparilla Bowl, he’s the only one still on the roster. He has survived two head coaching changes, two position-coach changes and three offensive coordinator changes.

Key word: survive.

“They still stay on me, even dealing with football and dealing with 1-4,” Odoms-Dukes said of his folks. “We’ll talk a little bit after the game and he’ll just say, ‘Hey, stay with it. It doesn’t matter, stay with it. It’s okay.’ I most definitely get everything that I know from those two.”

Related: A closer look at Tulsa, which faces USF on Friday

Tulsa (1-1, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) at USF (1-4, 0-3)

Raymond James Stadium, Friday, 7:30

TV/radio: ESPN/1250-AM