TAYLORVILLE — Yemi Odugbesan tried to keep it 100 — literally.
When the Taylorville wide receiver was joining his first football team and it was time to pick a jersey number, he had only one figure in mind.
"I wanted to be 100 and they were like, 'You can't be 100,' so I was like alright, No. 1. So that has always stuck with me," he said.
Odugbesan now competes with his receiving counterpart Justin Wright to be Tornadoes quarterback Brandon Odam’s No. 1 passing option as the team prepares to face its Class 4A second-round playoff opponent Columbia on Saturday.
But Odugbesan’s arrival and development into a major offensive weapon was an unexpected surprise this season.
Odugbesan moved to Taylorville in the early part of 2018 when his mother accepted a position in the Christian County state’s attorney’s office.
He had been a receiver with Class 8A’s Bolingbrook on Chicago’s west side. When he learned he would be moving, he had to first grab a map.
“My first impression was: I had never heard of it. I didn't even know that was in Illinois,” Odugbesan said. “When we drove down we saw some buildings and I thought we were just going in circles because all I could see were cornfields.”
Taylorville coach Jeb Odam knew he had something special in his new receiver the first day of summer practice.
“We didn't know what he was going to be like in the weight room and he showed up and was pleasantly strong and had a good form," Odam said. "But at our first individual training segment — when he started running routes — that's when we knew Yemi was going to be pretty good for us."
This season Odugbesan has 967 yards with 12 touchdowns and, according to the IHSA website, his Week 2 performance against Effingham was one for the record book. His 335 yards receiving was the fifth-most for a receiver in Illinois high school history.
“So far it has gone about as good as it could have," Odugbesan said. "I did not know what to expect but I have been pleasantly surprised by how well we all play together.”
At Bolingbrook, Odugbesan was lost in the shuffle of a rushing-dominated offense.
“I like the way we play better down here — Passing the ball and everything because (Bolingbrook) likes to run a lot," he said. "I think I fit in better down here.
“Brandon's the best quarterback I have ever played with. It's great. He sees that you are open before you even see yourself open.”
Odugbesan and Wright (1,397 yards and 15 TDs) complement each other on the field.
“You throw Yemi in with Justin and then we knew we had plenty of team speed," Jeb Odam said. "You start looking at all the chess pieces at your disposal and you sleep a little bit easier at night knowing you can be as creative as you can and still know you have another game changer out there."
Odam is scripting his offensive scheme for an 8-2 Eagles team that the Tornadoes host Saturday at 5 p.m.
Odugbesan and Wright could see double-teams all game just as they did against Mount Zion in Week 8.
Odugbesan was held to a single catch and Wright was blanked entirely, but the Tornadoes adjusted. Brandon Odam was set loose on the ground and ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns to get the 30-22 victory.
“We can stress an (opponent's) defense out or they have to change their defense scheme entirely," Jeb Odam said. "Like Mount Zion double teamed them, four guys on two, and now you aren't very good in the box and that's what we ended up taking advantage of in the second half.
“I can only imagine as a defensive coordinator trying to come up with ways to defend them.”
Odugbesan doesn’t mind the defense’s attention because it means someone else will be open.
“(Justin and I) don't really care if you double us because then we will run it on you and we love blocking, so it is a win-win,” he said.
Taylorville’s 57-30 first round win over Chillicothe Illinois Valley Central wasn’t perfect, and Jeb Odam had the Tornadoes work on fundamentals this week.
“We are focused on not letting the moment be bigger than us," he said. "We have been in the playoffs for the past six years, but for whatever reason the moment got to them last week so we are going to go back to the basics and clean some stuff up in all areas."
Odugbesan is grateful that his Taylorville experience has given him his first career playoff win. Now that he's in the spotlight, colleges are keen to see what No. 1 does in the playoffs.
“The first year (at Bolingbrook) we missed the playoffs and last year we lost in the first round, so this was my first playoff win, which felt great,” he said. “I’ve received an offer from Missouri Baptist (at receiver) but I haven't made my decision yet. It feels good having schools looking into you.”