CHESTERTON — When Chesterton forward Seth Conway picked up a yellow card at semistate that carried automatic suspension for the Class 3A state championship, the Trojans had one clear option.
Coach Lucas Sabedra turned to diminutive freshman midfielder Ryan O'Dell for the biggest start of his life. O'Dell — who says he stands 5-foot, 4 1/2 inches — buzzed around bigger, more experienced Zionsville players, popping up out of nowhere to win the ball and frustrate opponents.
That's a common theme for O'Dell, who projects as a fulltime starter for the Trojans this fall.
“A few (opponents) say, 'Go get your little brother' and stuff like that,” Conway said. “When he goes into games, no one expects him to do what he does. But he does it.”
Sabedra said O'Dell is one of the most technically skilled players in the Region and is best as an attacking midfielder directly behind Chesterton's forwards. O'Dell is known for his dribbling and passing, but his quickness helps him disrupt opposing dribblers, too.
The high skill level for a sophomore comes from O'Dell's work outside of the team setting. O'Dell, a naturally left-footed player, said he spent lots of time growing up playing pickup with his older brothers, former Trojans Derek and Jared O'Dell.
Derek and Jared would force Ryan to use only his right foot so as to round out his game. Ryan O'Dell has all the skills, and the state championship has him more prepared to use them.
“It's definitely given me a little more confidence and to talk more and be louder on the field and in practice,” Ryan O'Dell said. “After winning it, we definitely had a lot of hype on us. We knew we had to work harder the next season if we wanted to keep the top dog status, so we've been playing pretty well throughout the summer.”
Chesterton returns All-Area forwards Zack Bowser and Conway, who scored 20 and 18 goals, respectively. It'll open the season against Class A power Boone Grove on Aug. 19.
Ryan O'Dell scored two goals last season, and Sabedra said putting the ball in the back of the net could be his next step. But even if the goals don't come, contributing to goals in other ways — like notching assists or even dragging defenders away from Bowser and Conway — would be plenty.
Conway said one way that will happen is when Ryan O'Dell controls the ball in the middle of the field. When Conway and Bowser run into open space, they know the ball will find them.
“That's what he's best at,” Sabedra said. “You have to have a certain eye and creativity for that role. You either have it or you don't, and he's just got it.”
Ryan O'Dell didn't grow much, if at all, this offseason, but Sabedra said he doesn't have to. Once he develops more strength, he'll be able to body opponents off the ball and control the midfield even more.
When hulking defensive midfielders prepare to meet Ryan O'Dell as he approaches with the ball, Ryan O'Dell typically has too much speed for them. Darting by bigger, slower players one-on-one is one of his favorite feelings on the field, and he doesn't need to grow to keep doing that.
“I always tell him, 'It's not how big you are, it's how big you play,'” Sabedra said. “His brother, Derek, was the same way. Their speed of play makes up for everything that bigger, more physical guys don't have.”