EIRA Player of the Week - Karem Odeh
EIRA Player of the Week - Karem Odeh
One of the best questions to ask any coach of a select side is - what players from lesser-known teams are playing well?
It’s a great question because many rugby players in this country have made it to the higher levels from relatively humble beginnings. It’s not just a case that you will find your stars on the most successful high school teams - otherwise, why have select sides at all?
Odeh with his Celtic Elite teammates on the HSAA team. Left to right, Jack Bradfield (St. Edward), Zach Heisterkamp (St. Edward), Karem Odeh (Brunswick), Andrew Baldado (St. Ignatius).
And so that’s why we come to Karem Odeh. The tighthead prop is from Brunswick HS, which plays in Rugby Ohio’s DII league. Brunswick won their conference with a 4-0 record, but faltered against Avon in the playoffs. But the season didn’t end for Odeh (who often spells his first name Kareem to help people pronounce it correctly). He was selected for the Celtic Elite team that played in the South RCT, and of course we asked the question of Coach Tom Cleary, and he mentioned Odeh specifically.
Odeh started playing rugby in the middle of his sophomore year. In his first game he was put on the Brunswick B side against Medina, scored four tries, and has been an A-side player ever since. He quickly identified ways to improve his game, attending the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy sessions in the Cleveland area, and also making the trip to Tiger Rugby camps when he could.
And he didn’t shy away from breaking into a team. When the Celtic Elite started, it was mostly players from St. Edward and St. Ignatius. Odeh was one of the few not from those teams.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for smaller-name schools to get noticed,” he said. “There is definitely talent there. Without the Celtic team, I don’t think I would have been exposed to the higher level of rugby and I don;’t think I would have had the opportunities I’ve had.”
That would include playing for the High School All Americans this past week in Ontario. There, Odeh was asked to anchor the tighthead prop spot. He played 60 of the 70 minutes of each game, while Ontario kept subbing on players to deal with him (in the first game he faced three different looseheads).
“It was OK,” said Odeh. “We stood our ground. The fact that we all came together helped a lot, and we didn’t lose a scrum.”
"Karem is a student of the game," said HSAA Head Coach Salty Thompson. "He's a strong ball carrier, but what I like the most is his hustle on defense. He is always looking for work, and has excellent footwork. He had a tendency to step back inside but adjusted to attack the outside gaps better. He's humble, and an excellent teammate."
Odeh told Goff Rugby Report that he’s had to deal with a significant adjustment between playing at the DII level and playing at the HSAA level. Even though other players from Brunswick - Colin Sustersic, Lamaris Santiago, and Brandon Brackins - played for the Celtic Elite select side, there’s still the idea for leading players on a small team that they should take care of everything. You want to bring back training ideas, you need to be the player to lead by example.
But on the All Americans, every play thinks that way, and, Odeh explained, what players need to learn is to trust his teammates to get their job done.
“We have to trust in one another,” Odeh said. “The trust wasn’t there as much the first game, but in in the second game we trusted ourselves. Watching film between the games really helped us to see our mistakes, and we could see those times when we didn’t trust each other. In the second game we had a lot more trust, and the score showed that.”
Odeh says there are many more players in his position - playing for a small team, and maybe not always playing against the toughest opposition, but still learning. Many of those players take advantage of the opportunities like the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy to develop their skills, and also to be seen and evaluated by other coaches.
As a result, Odeh has already made an impact, and he expects to continue to do that as he gets set to enroll at Life University, where he will, of course, play rugby.
“I used to be a football guy, but once I played rugby, it changed me,” Odeh said. “I love prop. I like the contact. I like the feeling of driving a team off the ball in the scrum. Rugby will always be a part of my life.”