SHERIDAN — There’s a unique crop that comes from one Big Horn, Wyo., farm.
A farm for player development, that is.
Its product? College athletes.
Two Big Horn High School seniors are continuing a tradition of playing college football close to home. Will O’Dell will attend Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., and Preston Davenport is headed for Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
Like plenty of Rams before them, these two are turning standout senior years into next level opportunities.
Will O’Dell: Black Hills State University
For O’Dell, the possibilities are on both sides of the ball, but he will focus on running back.
Football has been his love since he was in middle school and even before that watching his older brother Justin, who (even if Will doesn’t realize it) he runs like, wearing the same No. 19 on his jersey.
O’Dell was a commanding force when he touched the ball for the Rams in 2012. Even as he shared carries with fellow punishing back Scott Passini, O’Dell broke tackles with a veracity that allowed him an opportunity to score from anywhere on the field. He finished with 645 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on just 42 attempts (15.4 yards per carry). He added 130 yards receiving and two more scores.
He visited Rocky and Dickenson, saving Black Hills for last, the school he eventually chose.
“It’s close, and the football program just moved up to D2 so they’re doing well right now,” he said. Black Hills State, the Yellow Jackets, lassoed two other standout Wyoming players this year in Riverton’s Jordan Belville and Natrona’s Brecken Biggs. Sure, those 4A guys carry their own clout — Biggs was last year’s Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year — but few who watched O’Dell would think he can’t hang.
“He’s really talented in that he can play both sides of the ball,” Rams head coach Michael McGuire said. “He really came into his own carrying the ball this year, and I think he’s only going to get better at that. He catches the ball really well for a back. He led us in defensive points as an inside backer.”
On defense, the Rams’ leader averaged 14 defensive points per game behind 5.8 tackles per game with nine tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick.
“He’s just really versatile,” McGuire said. “He’s a kid that really knows how to work hard and I think he’ll figure it out find a spot for himself there.”
A gym rat since football ended, he’s packed on some size. Now he’s running track and throwing shot put to add agility to his repertoire.
He realizes that there’s a transition in intensity that will be quick in August, but credits the Rams’ coaching staff for preparing him.
“The way that we practiced and trained, you could just see that it was above a high school level,” O’Dell said of how his senior year under McGuire helped him. “It seemed so focused on football and what we needed to do and how we needed to train to get better.”
“I guess I’ll find out if I love football not just like it,” O’Dell said. “But I’m pretty sure I love it.”
Preston Davenport: Rocky Mountain College
Davenport chose Rocky Mountain College not only for football, but because he wants to study biology and liked their program, he said.
“He’s got a great frame, the thing about Preston is that he’s really raw, he’s only played football a couple of years,” McGuire said.
Davenport played his first year as a sophomore, but the 250-pound kid had no problem fitting in.
Whereas he’s too small for his nose tackle position in college, Davenport will likely move to defensive end, due to his skill in maintaining leverage.
“He’s really hard working and loves the weight room, he’s one of those kids you can see him improving every day because he hasn’t played a ton of football. He’s got a frame that you cant teach, with his size and strength. He has worked hard on improving his speed. I think he’s going to bring a lot to the table for them.”
Academics were a part of Davenport’s decision-making process, but he was also influenced by older Rams.
Rams have trekked to Rocky before, and Davenport said Bobby St. John’s direction has always been key in his college selection.
“Saint” (as he’s known to folks in Big Horn) has taught Davenport never to be intimidated, especially moving to the next level.
“I saw a couple of guys go off to college and I kind of looked up to them,” Davenport said, naming Matt Kolden and Jake St. John, Bobby’s son.
“I thought maybe if I worked hard enough I’d be able to play college football myself.”
These senior Rams at Big Horn built their football foundation in the longtime leadership of Bert Dow and coaches like St. John. Now, they’ve turned to advice from first-year coaches McGuire and Kurt McLaughlin, too.
Davenport says he’s listened how to acclimate himself to the coaches and programs in a college football setting.
“For both of them (O’Dell and Davenport), I think that’s how they wanted it to start off college: playing football,” McGuire said. “I think they both love football, going in, that always tests your will, especially if you redshirt right off the bat.”
“These are kids that understand that it may take time, and I think they’ll both put in the time,” he continued. “They did a great job this winter, weight room-wise. It’s a lot of the extra curricular stuff that football takes up, practice, we practice a lot like a college team real fast-paced a lot of tempo.”