Chris Estrada

Chris Odom ends strong season as USFL Defensive Player of the Year


Houston Gamblers edge rusher Chris Odom didn’t have to look far for motivation as he entered the USFL this season.

Odom has a young daughter named Cassie that was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta. Also known as brittle bone disease, OI is a genetic disorder characterized by fragile bones that can break easily, even when doing simple tasks like changing a diaper or sneezing.

According to Odom, who wore yellow cleats during the season to raise awareness of OI, the doctors gave Cassie a 50-50 chance of surviving her first year.

Cassie recently celebrated her second birthday.

“She’s my biggest ‘why’ on why I play now,” Odom told NBC Sports before he and the Gamblers closed their season last weekend against New Orleans.

But Odom also found motivation in himself.

A veteran of 11 NFL games (seven with Green Bay in 2017, four with Washington in 2019), Odom has kept his pro career going with stints in the Canadian Football League and the defunct Alliance of American Football.

But as he’ll tell you, you never know when the next chance will come. When the USFL did come, Odom knew he had to crush it.

“It’s one thing to talk about it, but you’ve still got to go out there and do it,” he said. “But the opportunity of being back on the field, just to showcase myself – I’ve been wanting nothing more than just an opportunity.

“Just let me be on the field and I’ll handle the rest.”

He lived up to that promise. Odom was a force on the defensive line, racking up a league-leading 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles this season.

Not only that, he chipped in four blocked field goals, including one last week against New Orleans that led to a 77-yard return for a touchdown by Jeremiah Johnson.

The Gamblers went on to win, 20-3. Before that contest, Odom was named to this year’s All-USFL Team, one of three Gamblers to earn the distinction (linebacker Donald Payne, cornerback Will Likely).

“It feels good just to be recognized by your peers for your accomplishments and what not,” he said. “It feels good, just to go along with what I’ve done on the field, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and what not, so without them it wouldn’t be possible.”

On Wednesday, another big honor came to Odom. He was named USFL Defensive Player of the Year, receiving one of the league’s top individual accolades.

RELATED: USFL selects 25 players to be part of inaugural 2022 All-USFL Team

The award completes a nice close to the season for Odom and the Gamblers, who were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 7. The Gamblers closed with back-to-back wins, including a 17-15 victory in Week 9 over the previously undefeated Birmingham Stallions.

That victory was a notable one, because the Gamblers were more often on the wrong side of those close contests.

Seven of their 10 games this season were decided by one possession. The Gamblers went 2-5 in those games. Going deeper, the Gamblers blew a halftime lead in six consecutive contests (Weeks 2-7), a streak that culminated in a 35-24 defeat to Philadelphia that finished their ebbing playoff hopes.

When asked about the Gamblers’ troubles, Odom said it came down to a handful of plays in their losses that simply didn’t work out for them.

“We can go back in the middle of the game and say this play is why we lost or this play made the difference at the very end,” Odom reflected. “I think it just came down to those plays, just making mistakes at the wrong time, because the determining factor of the outcome were in the final two minutes or so of the game that changed the game from us leading to us losing or for us to potentially come back and win.

“It was just staying locked in and minimizing mistakes all the way to the very end of the game.”

The Gamblers had another chance to do that in Week 9 and this time, they made it count.

Down 17-15, the Stallions got the ball back with 1:44 left and two timeouts to work with. But a deep pass was intercepted by Micah Abernathy, which ultimately proved the difference.

“Number one, we just wanted to win more,” Odom said about what that win meant to the group. “With this whole league being here in Birmingham… We just got tired of Birmingham winning and hearing about them in the hotel and all over the media.

“But we were also frustrated at how much we’ve lost, how many games we’ve lost and how we’ve lost them – like, all within our control. So, yeah, we’re out of the running for the playoffs but at least we can prove it to ourselves that we can change the outcome of the game.”

RELATED: How to watch the 2022 USFL Playoffs – Dates, location, matchups, TV/streaming info

Odom’s exploits may have also earned him another look from the NFL as training camps loom.

As the regular season wound down, his name began to pop up in various media outlets as a potential free agent that could help a struggling NFL team. For example, a June 14 piece on Bleacher Report matched him with the Atlanta Falcons, whose 18 sacks last season were fewest in the NFL (said report also listed two other USFL standouts, the aforementioned Turpin and Philadelphia cornerback Channing Stribling, the league leader in interceptions).

When asked if he felt his performance this season in the USFL was good enough to get noticed by the NFL, Odom demurred. He said he would focus on closing the USFL season out and “whatever opportunity presents itself afterwards, then so be it.”

Regardless of what happens next, Odom said it was “very important” that the USFL was there for him and his teammates to prove they can still play the game at a high level.

“I have teammates that haven’t played football in a year, two years, three years, some even four years – whether it wasn’t the right opportunity, injury, COVID,” he said.

“We all just were happy to be able to play football again. So we all just wanted to show everybody what we were capable of.”

First and 10 with Chris Odom

10 quick questions to get to know the new talent of the USFL

Pre-game ritual?

“I pray every time we run out the tunnel. I always go to the bench and I say a prayer. I give thanks to everyone that supported me, and I ask Him to protect the ones I love (and) my team. That’s my consistent ritual I do every game.”

Post-game ritual?

“It’s hard to say post-game, other than just body maintenance. Take care of the body, recovery the next day. Just a little workout, try to get the soreness out, so I can get back to a somewhat normal state and get ready for the next week.”

Favorite food?

“I like smoked brisket. I’m from Texas – we love our barbeque.”

Favorite football player?

“My dad.”

(Writer: He was in the league for many years and you learned a lot of lessons, but what are the most important ones you’ve kind of leaned on as you’ve carved out your pro career?)

Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts - 1980's File Photos
Cliff Odom, father of Chris Odom, was an NFL linebacker for 13 seasons (1980, 1982-93). Cliff spent the majority of his NFL career with the Colts (1982-89). Photo: Don Larson/Getty Images

“I’m a defensive end and outside linebacker – or edge rusher, because that’s both – and he was a middle linebacker. So I’m used to going to guys like him for calls, and he has to be the smartest one on defense because he has to know what’s in front of him and behind him. So I’ll go and talk to him and he’s looking at (things) in terms of adjustments and what not.

“But the biggest thing he’s taught me is just the mentality every time you step on the field, that you just have to be undeniable and ruthless. Because he grew up in the old school NFL. That wasn’t played like current NFL. But that doesn’t mean that the tools they used and the mentality they had to take can’t be applied to today’s football. So he’s just been constantly reminding me of the mindset I have to have when I step onto the field.

“Once I realized that, then we really started breaking down defenses and just picking up certain things because some things are just repetitive. It’s a copy cat league and when you see stuff so many times, you learn how to be in a better position to make a play. Just with that and him teaching me the fundamentals of the game. He just made me an overall better football player, from that standpoint.”

Favorite movie?

“I watch a lot of movies… I grew up just watching a whole bunch of movies at once. But if I had to put just one on there, that’s tough… Any Given Sunday and John Wick.

Favorite vacation spot?

“I like Florida. Anywhere specific? I like Fort Lauderdale.”

Most famous person you’ve met outside of football?

“Lil’ Wayne and Chris Tucker.”

How would your family and friends describe you as a person?

“They’d probably say I’m different, just from the way I think. Example: You have a bad day at work – if a boss chewed you out, you’re going down the list of your tasks, you did a certain amount but there was one you didn’t. I would have the mindset of ‘Everyone’s going to have a bad day, you just try not to have too many of them, and it wasn’t all bad.’ Compared to some that might take it as they had a bad day because their boss chewed them out, it ruined their whole day. So, from that mindset, that’s how I think. I just try to look on the brighter side of things than dwell on the negatives.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

“I really wouldn’t change anything. I like who I am. I do like myself – I wouldn’t say I’m full of myself. I like who I am.”

Name one thing about yourself that not everybody knows about you.

I’m into photography and videography.”

(Writer: When did that become a hobby for you?)

“I’ve always liked taking photos and with social media blowing up, I’ve gotten to try to get more into video. I picked up my camera – a real camera – in 2017, and (have) upgraded ever since. During the pandemic, I was working for a creative marketing firm back in Dallas when I wasn’t playing football or waiting for a call to play football. It’s just something off the field that I just like doing.”

(Writer: Is there anything specific you like to shoot as a photographer?)

“Portraits. Portraits and stills, I like the expression in a photo, and to tell a story with one still image.”

2022 USFL Playoffs

Saturday, June 25

  • North Division Final: Philadelphia Stars vs. New Jersey Generals – 3 p.m. ET, FOX
  • South Division Final: New Orleans Breakers vs. Birmingham Stallions – 8 p.m. ET, NBC

Sunday, July 3

  • Championship: North Division champion vs. South Division champion – 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Channing Stribling helping to lead surging Stars in USFL


You don’t get to be a league leader in anything without doing your homework.

Philadelphia Stars cornerback Channing Stribling, whose seven interceptions are tops in the USFL entering Saturday’s regular season finale, makes sure he does his. In the film room, he’ll hone in on a handful of plays that the Stars’ opponents like to run in certain situations.

But on game day, the learning is in real-time, as his watchful eyes spot plays he hadn’t picked out in the days before.

“People ask me why do I ‘press bail’ or play a certain technique, and they think I either can’t press or something like that – no, I just like watching the game and seeing what happens,” Stribling explained to NBC Sports this week.

“A lot of the routes that I’ve had interceptions on – I’ve seen them, during the course of the game, happen on the other side. I’m like, ‘Alright, when it comes to this side, I’ll be able to play this way and that way.’”

Stribling’s hunches have proven correct more often than not. His big-play abilities landed him on the All-USFL Team, and his seven picks are nearly a third of the Stars’ league-leading 22 takeaways this season.

13 of those 22 takeaways have come during the Stars’ four-game winning streak, which they’ll put on the line Saturday against the New Jersey Generals – themselves on a eight-game winning streak.

USFL Week 10 – Philadelphia Stars (6-3) vs. New Jersey Generals (8-1)

  • When: Saturday, Noon ET on USA Network
  • Where: Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama
  • Stream:

The Stars and Generals will face each other again next Saturday, June 25, at the USFL Playoffs in Canton, Ohio. That same day, the Birmingham Stallions and New Orleans Breakers will meet in the other semifinal. The winners will square off in the Championship game July 3.

Stribling believes this may be the first time he’s ever faced the same opponent in a regular season finale and in a post-season game the following week. But he and the Stars aren’t letting their mind wander to the second contest – the one with much higher stakes.

“I think what we’ve been doing a great job of in our games is just making sure that we’re taking each game step-by-step, lock into the game plan,” he said. “We don’t really worry about the outside factors – championships and stuff like that. We just focus on playing ball and if we do that each game that we play, we’re gonna be successful.

“Our emphasis has been that – lock into just football and whatever’s in front of you right now, you know?”

RELATED: How to watch 2022 USFL Playoffs: Dates, location, matchups, TV schedule, live stream info

For much of Stribling’s life, whatever’s in front of him has constantly changed.

His mother, Sonja, and father, Dennis, both served in the Army for many years. Military life can often mean going from one place to the next and that was the case for the Striblings.

A 2016 piece from the Detroit Free Press noted that Channing Stribling lived in nine different places with eight moves during his first 18 years. But he largely took it in stride.

While he’s admittedly a shy person, Stribling says he didn’t have much trouble making friends wherever he went. Part of that was because he was constantly involved in sports from a young age.

First, it was basketball. But then came football.

“I started playing football probably in the first or second grade,” he said. “I don’t know what age I was, but that was my first time playing. I don’t remember too much about it. I just know that I played it and it was fun. Once I started getting older, I started playing in Pop Warner leagues and stuff.

“… I was playing basketball and I think after that – I think the parents wanted their kid to be a little more busy, so they put me in football, too. From then on, from that point, I think I’ve played sports every season.”

RELATED: USFL selects 25 players to be part of inaugural 2022 All-USFL team

The moves finally came to an end in North Carolina, where Stribling became an All-State player at Butler High School (Matthews, N.C.). From there, he went on to play at the University of Michigan (2013-16). In his 2016 senior season, he earned All-Big Ten second-team honors while holding his own on a defense that included All-Americans Jourdan Lewis (now a Dallas Cowboy) and Jabrill Peppers (now a New England Patriot).

But his pro career has had more twists and turns. Stribling spent time with the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts (twice), San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers over 2017 and 2018, but never played in an NFL game.

Since then, he’s carried on in the alternative leagues: The ill-fated AAF (Memphis Express, 2019) and XFL (Seattle Dragons, 2020), plus the Canadian Football League (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2019 & 2021).

Last but not least, there’s The Spring League, where Stribling and well over a dozen future Stars played under head coach Bart Andrus. The group earned a TSL championship in 2020, with Stribling chipping in two interceptions in the title game – one of which he ran back for a touchdown.

While Stribling was in Canada last year, he found out about the USFL with the help of his girlfriend.

“At the time, I wasn’t really thinking about it or had seen anything,” he said. “But once she put that in my head, that’s when I started thinking about what’s going on and started paying attention.

“I noticed (the USFL) was kind of like The Spring League making a bigger jump, so I’m like, ‘OK, (Andrus) is gonna be back. I’m probably gonna be with whatever team he coaches depending on how they do the Draft.’”

Sure enough, Andrus took him in the eighth round as he fortified the Stars with his old players. And since then, Stribling has become the league’s top ball hawk.

Will he claim another championship on 4th of July weekend? Will the NFL give him another look?

We’ll find out soon enough. But no matter what, Stribling will approach things – his preparation, his games, his craft – with the same relentlessness and determination to stay the course that was instilled in him by his parents.

“Watching from the outside in, seeing everything they’ve been through, everything they’ve kind of sacrificed – for me, it made me think about, ‘If they can do that, give their life toward serving an entire country, I can give my last 10% of energy towards football,'” he said.

“That’s not a lot compared to what they’re doing.”

First and 10 with Channing Stribling

10 quick questions to get to know the new talent of the USFL

Pre-game ritual?

“For me, I think the main thing is I can’t be uptight. I can’t be rah-rah or serious. That’s just not me. I have to be laughing. I think it was the first game – that was the first time I was uptight, and I had to go on TikTok and Twitter and watch funny videos. I went on Hulu and watched Martin. I love Martin. I watched a whole episode and was just laughing, so it kind of helped me just stay loose. I’ll probably just say that – just making sure I’m not uptight or too locked in.”

Post-game ritual?

“The main part is – we call it ‘chopping.’ Talking, basically, go somewhere and eating and talking. Just kind of reflecting on not just football, but life in general. It starts off with football: How the game went, where I could’ve done better, what went well, what didn’t go well. Then you think about the future, in football and past football. Really, just chopping – I can’t just go home and go to sleep. I have to just talk about the game and stuff.”

Favorite food?

“I love pizza. I haven’t had it in a while, just because I’ve had to slow down on fast food. It’s not really working, but post-game for sure, if I had to choose one, it’d be pizza. Or Zaxby’s.”

Favorite football player?

“I’d say Richard Sherman, for sure. I modeled my game after him a little bit.”

Favorite movie?

“I’ve got three – The Wood, Space Jam and The Sixth Man.”

Favorite vacation spot?

“Hawaii. I used to live in Hawaii, and it was beautiful. If I get any vacation time, that’d be the spot for sure.”

Most famous person you’ve met outside of football?

“I haven’t really met a lot of people who are famous. I try to keep to myself, really. … Oh, I met Sinbad! I met Sinbad when I was in Germany. My parents had a basketball game and he did the halftime routine while I was shooting baskets. I was young, so I was shooting ball and I didn’t know who he was. I recognized his face as I got older and started seeing him and was like, ‘OK, was that the guy in Germany at our halftime game?’”

How would your family and friends describe you as a person?

“I’d say honest. Funny. Goofy. Passionate. Hard-working.”

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

“(I’m) over-analytical. I wish I wasn’t that way. It’s a gift and a curse. In football, it helps a lot. But in certain situations, I’ll think past what it really is versus what it could be.”

Name one thing about yourself that not everybody knows about you.

“I think everybody knows a lot about me. (Laughs) I don’t know. I’m pretty much an open book. I don’t think I have anything people don’t already know about me.”

2022 USFL Week 10 Schedule

Saturday, June 18

Sunday, June 19

Scooby Wright, Stallions focus on what’s in front – not ahead


With two weeks left in the 2022 USFL regular season, linebacker Scooby Wright and the undefeated 8-0 Birmingham Stallions have already secured a USFL Playoff berth and the South Division regular season title.

They know they’ll be at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio on June 25, playing for an opportunity to reach the Championship game on July 3.

But with two regular season games remaining – Saturday night against the Houston Gamblers (6 p.m. ET on USA Network) and the June 18 regular season finale against the Tampa Bay Bandits – Wright and the Stallions aren’t looking ahead.

“I think the biggest thing that we’ve done is just attack the week as 1-0 and that’s kind of helped us just to create momentum – having us not get too far [ahead] and just staying focused on each week and make sure we execute that,” he told NBC Sports this week.

USFL Week 9 – Houston Gamblers vs. Birmingham Stallions

  • When: Saturday, June 11 at 6 p.m. ET
  • Where: Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama
  • TV: USA Network
  • Stream:

The Stallions have managed to execute week in, week out, in all sorts of ways.

Last week, the Stallions engaged in a defensive struggle with the Breakers (see highlights at the top). Wright made eight tackles, suitably playing his role in a game that included a total of six turnovers and five missed kicks.

Following Brandon Aubrey’s go-ahead field goal with less than two minutes to go in the game, the Stallions sealed a 10-9 win on an interception from Josh Shaw with six seconds left. With that, they overcame a second-half deficit to win for the seventh time in eight games this season.

Afterwards, head coach Skip Holtzwho had previously told NBC Sports that the then 4-0 Stallions hadn’t quite put it all together yet as a team – proclaimed the Stallions as championship caliber on account of their mental toughness.

“A championship team isn’t perfect,” Holtz said. “A championship team isn’t [a team that] never has a bad play. But a championship football team overcomes those things because they’re mentally tough enough to do it.”

When asked where that toughness has come from, Wright pointed to his teammates.

“We have some good guys on our defense that just love football – and are some dogs, to be honest,” said Wright, who may also have some dog in himself if his “Shark Dawg” sack celebration from Week 4 was an indication.

“Just that ‘we’ll never quit.’ I know (linebacker) DeMarquis Gates – he’s a great football player, he plays hard every single play. We have a lot of great guys on our defense: (cornerback) Brian Allen, Josh Shaw, a lot of guys with good football experience and guys who are good football players.

“When we’re firing on all cylinders, we do pretty good. So (we) just got to make sure we keep doing it.”

RELATED: 2022 USFL Playoff Picture – Current standings, clinching scenarios, and key dates to know ahead of Week 9

There’s more football to play, but on the field, Wright says it’s already been the best of his three excursions into the alternative pro leagues.

A former All-American at the University of Arizona and veteran of 13 NFL games (Cardinals, 2016-17), Wright’s pro career continued in the Alliance of American Football (Arizona Hotshots, 2019) and the second version of the XFL (DC Defenders, 2020).

On both of those occasions, the league shut down before it could complete a season.

When his time in the XFL was over, Wright took up martial arts and competed in jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai tournaments. He also began training to become a firefighter in his home of Sonoma County, California (more on that below in our First and 10 section).

But when the USFL emerged, Wright couldn’t resist putting the football pads on again.

In comments from February to a sports radio station in Tucson, Arizona, he noted the “comical part” of going back into alt-league football after the AAF and XFL’s untimely ends.

But he also said: “No regrets – I’m not trying to look back when I’m 50 and wish I would’ve done this or done that. I’m just going to send it.”

Wright’s done just that, and he’s now a key component for a Stallions defense that’s allowing the fewest points per game (16.8) and second-fewest net yards per game (277.1) in the USFL.

He’s also become a sort of folk hero to the Stallions fans at Protective Stadium and Legion Field who come wearing shark masks and Scooby-Doo – or is it Shark Dawg? – chains around their necks. One fan had the honor of giving Wright his own chain.

As the host team this season, the support for the Stallions has been noticeable compared to the other teams. But what if that support becomes more muted in a postseason played on a neutral site?

“Don’t get me wrong, we love our fans here in Birmingham – they’ve fully accepted us and it’s really cool,” Wright said. “But I think it’ll be a good experience for us to go up there and see how we play as an ‘away’ game.

“But it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. It’s football. You lob the ball up and you go out there and play. The fans are large to an extent, but it’s not like there’s 80,000 people in the stands.”

Focus on the field. Tune out the noise. Get the win. Move on to the next game.

Sounds like a Shark Dawg’s mentality to us.

First and 10 with Scooby Wright

10 quick questions to get to know the new talent of the USFL

Pre-game ritual?

“Not really. I just kind of have my music on and just chill.”

Post-game ritual?

“Not really.”

Favorite food?

“Pizza after the game… Pepperoni, or meat lover’s.”

Favorite football player?

“James Harrison… Just that he was kind of a journeyman early on in his career and his work ethic, just the way he went about his business.”

Favorite movie?

“The Wolf of Wall Street.”

 Favorite vacation spot?

“Negril, Jamaica.”

 Most famous person you’ve met outside of football?

“Machine Gun Kelly.”

How would your family and friends describe you as a person?

“I don’t know, if I’m being honest. Depends on who you ask.”

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

“I wish I was 6’2″. Tired of being called short as a linebacker.”

Name one thing about yourself that not everybody knows about you.

“I’m certified to be a firefighter.”

(Writer: Do you plan on continuing that path after the season’s over?)

“I really don’t know what my next few months hold. Just trying to figure it out to be honest. Just feel like I’m jumping timelines back and forth. But I graduated the fire academy in December – got firefighter 1, firefighter 2, all my certificates. Then I was in the process of working on my EMT courses, so I’ve got to get my EMT course, like a five or six week course and pass a test, then I’ll be able to apply for jobs. But I was volunteering as a firefighter back home.”

(Writer: What about being a firefighter or a first responder appeals to you?)

“It was, moreso, I have five or six friends I played with that are all firefighters. So that’s interesting how that would’ve worked out for me, but my football coach growing up is actually the fire captain at the station I work at now. So who knows what’s going to happen. Hopefully I get into another training camp and get an opportunity but just figure it out from there. Probably get back into martial arts, do that stuff.”

USFL Week 9 Schedule

Saturday, June 11

Sunday, June 12

  • Tampa Bay Bandits (4-4) vs. New Orleans Breakers (5-3) – 4 p.m. ET on FOX
  • Philadelphia Stars (5-3) vs. Pittsburgh Maulers (1-7) – 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1