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Charlotte Catholic’s Jim Oddo approaches his 500th game

This week at Ardrey Kell, Charlotte Catholic’s Jim Oddo will coach his 500th game.

Oddo won his 353rd game Friday when Charlotte Catholic beat West Mecklenburg 29-13 and got in position for another conference championship. Oddo and Catholic have now won 30 straight conference games.

“I don’t keep track of wins or the number of games I’ve coached,” said Oddo, 77. “I started coaching in 1959. It’s something I’ve enjoyed and something I like to do.”

In 1964, while working as an assistant at East Mecklenburg, Oddo left coaching and started selling insurance. He was making more money, but every year when football season began, he would go by East Mecklenburg and watch the players put on pads for the first time and start hitting. Every year, it got harder to get back in his car and drive away.

“Coach (Don) Hipp, every year, he would ask me, ‘Are you coming back? Are you coming back?’” Oddo said. “Finally, the third year after I left, I went to Don and said, ‘I’d like that job.’”

Oddo got back into coaching and never left. He started at Charlotte Catholic in 1973, won his first state championship in 1977 and has put together quite a resume: 353 wins, 144 losses and two ties.

Oddo is the state’s winningest active coach.

Oddo’s team has played in six state championships and won three titles, but asked about his favorite memories, Oddo had trouble pickingone. Or two.

“When you win a state championship, it sticks out,” Oddo said. “And anytime you’re an underdog and you rise up and win a ballgame, that’s extra special. It’s good to win anytime, especially when you prepare for something and then it works. But as far as one particular thing, I couldn’t say.But winning (conference) championships and state championships were huge, but I couldn’t say this one was better than that one. The 1977 state championship sticks out because it was special to do it for the first time. They’re all special.”

Catholic reached the N.C. 3AA championship game last season and lost to Northern Guilford. Catholic’s best player, Elijah Hood, was a junior then, and is arguably the state’s top senior this season. There have been those in the North Carolina high school community who have long thought that Oddo and Hood might go out together – Hood to play at North Carolina and Oddo to enter retirement.

Oddo said he hasn’t come close to deciding that.

“I’m just happy with the next game,” he said. “I don’t look that far ahead. You think about it, but never get ahead of yourself. It’s like sometimes you’re playing during the season and you have a team that doesn’t have a good record and you’re playing a real good team the week after that. A lot of teams like to prepare for that team that is two weeks away.

“I remember when I coached at N.C. State. We were picked to win one ballgame, and when the season was over, we were 9-1. And the only game we lost was the one game that people said in the beginning of the season we were supposed to win. So to tell you the truth, I have to take my future day by day and week by week, and when the season is over, I will sit down and kind of think about it. Right now, I don’t know.”

• Last season, I asked Oddo if Hood was the best player he’s ever coached. Oddo said because Hood was just a junior, it was too early to say. I asked him again Saturday, and it didn’t take Oddo too long to answer.

“I think he is,” Oddo said. “I’ve coached some great players and some great fullbacks, and for the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve had some outstanding players at that position who have gone on to get outstanding scholarships. Just a bunch of good kids and great athletes, but yes, I would think (Hood) would have to be the one.”

• Hood has made a lot of eye-popping plays in his three-year career. Most of them involved him running with the ball, breaking tackles and busting open. But one of the best plays I’ve seen him make was in Friday’s game with West Meck, and it came on defense.

West Meck’s Shaun Wilson, a Duke recruit with incredible speed, took a handoff at his 7. He broke open and against almost any team, on any other night, he scores and he scores easily. Hood, who also plays linebacker, ran Wilson down from behind. Three plays later, Catholic’s Cameron Roberts intercepted a pass that killed the drive.