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University of Washington Huskies Football

With so much on the line, UW’s Rome Odunze is ready to put on a show in Las Vegas homecoming

By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Rome Odunze has had opportunities to step inside Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, from Raiders games to football camps and other events.

But Washington’s record-threatening wide receiver wanted to wait.

“I just didn’t want to go in there,” he said, “until it was the real deal and I was the one that was going to put on the show.”

On Friday, the show goes home.

Odunze – a 6-foot-3, 215-pound Las Vegas product – has lit up the Pac-12 in his fourth season in Seattle, recording 73 catches with 1,326 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s 128 yards shy of UW’s single-season receiving record, set by Reggie Williams (who compiled 94 catches for 1,454 yards and 11 TDs in 13 games) in 2002.

More than two decades later, another No. 1 is coming for the No. 1 spot.

“He wore uno, just like me. So he definitely inspires me,” Odunze said Tuesday. “I go back and watch some of his tape. He was just raw, straight athleticism, different type of ability. Not everybody is born with that. I heard I was close (to his record), and hopefully, I can go take that from him. But to be anywhere near that is such an honor, honestly.”

When asked if he sees similarities in Williams’ skill set, Odunze said: “A little bit, a little bit. He was a dawg. He went up and took some stuff out of the air. He was super athletic with it, too. I think we carry that same mentality of being that big, bad receiver when we come out here.”

For ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., another comparison comes to mind.

“Week after week, he has been spectacular for the Washington Huskies,” Kiper said this month. “He’s that 6-2, 6-3, 215-pound receiver with the length, the physicality. You look at where we are right now with receivers (in the 2024 draft class), and it’s (Ohio State’s) Marvin Harrison Jr. way at the top, but that No. 2 receiver … Rome Odunze could be No. 4 or 5 overall on the big board.

“Rome Odunze is special, reminds me a little bit of Ja’Marr Chase.”

The Oregon Ducks might say the same.

After all, Odunze carved the Ducks in UW’s 36-33 win inside Husky Stadium on Oct. 14, posting eight catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns (including the go-ahead 18-yard score).

No. 5 Oregon (11-1) may opt to double Odunze on Friday night.

Or roll some deadly dice.

“If you double him, then you’re going to be short in the run game. If you don’t double him, then he has a one-on-one (matchup) he has an opportunity to win,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said this week. “He attacks the ball in the air extremely well. He’s got great speed. He runs every route in the route tree. And he has a quarterback that can give it to him. So he really presents some great challenges.”

Added UW running back Dillon Johnson, who played three seasons for Mississippi State in the SEC before transferring this offseason: “Rome’s just a different breed. He’s got all the tangibles, man. I think what people don’t talk about enough is how great of a person he is outside of football – the most humble guy you could ever meet, just an awesome guy all around. But as a football player, he’s just different. He’s the best receiver I’ve seen or been (on a team with), ever.”

But will Odunze be the best player on the field Friday?

And can he separate himself as college football’s most outstanding receiver?

The fourth-year junior was named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award – which recognizes the nation’s premier receiver, regardless of position – Tuesday, alongside Harrison and LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers. Oregon also touts junior Troy Franklin, whose numbers – 77 catches, 1,349 receiving yards, 14 TDs – are nearly identical to Odunze.

On Friday, Odunze – who expects to have roughly 60 friends and family members in attendance – can help UW secure a playoff spot … while separating himself from the field.

“At this time last year he was viewed by scouts as a guy that could potentially go in the third round – a quality future starter,” said The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, who projected Odunze to go to Cincinnati with the No. 15 overall pick in a mock draft published Wednesday. “But he came back and he’s put himself in that first round conversation. There’s a group of receivers fighting to be that wide receiver 2, behind Marvin Harrison Jr., and he’s right there in that mix. A lot of teams really like Malik Nabers at LSU. Keon Coleman from Florida State is supremely gifted. But Rome brings a little more polish with his game.

“He’s a legit 6-3, 217 pounds. So he has the size, but he also has the speed as well. This is a guy that was a 10.6 100-meter guy in high school. Scouts expect him to run in the 4.4s [in the 40-yard dash]. They see that on film. His ability at the catch point is really impressive. He’s just a coordinated ball-catcher, snatches the ball cleanly, one of the better contested catch receivers in college football. And he’s got a little bit of juice after the catch, too, where he can make a man miss.

“He can do a little bit of everything. He’s got receiver instincts. He can line up across the formation. When you look at Rome Odunze, it’s like, ‘OK, what don’t you like?’ That might be a shorter conversation, because it’s tough to find any true concerns in his game.”

That game will be on display in Allegiant Stadium on Friday night, in the final Pac-12 championship game, with a playoff berth hanging in the balance.

This is why Odunze returned in 2023.

It’s also why he waited.

“It couldn’t have been written any better,” Odunze said of his Allegiant Stadium debut. “It’s God’s plan, really – leaving Las Vegas, coming out here, not knowing anybody, coming on this new journey, gaining so many friends and family, and now we’re headed home to handle some unfinished business. It’s kind of poetic in the way it’s all worked out.”