Heather Van Norman once said her son had hit the “genetic jackpot.” She was right.
Of course, when your son is New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. it’s hard to argue that point. This is the guy who, as a rookie, made a play so fantastic that it’s simply referred to as “The Catch,” racked up nearly every post-season accolade and landed on the cover of Madden.
Odell is talented, and he knows exactly who to thank for it; his family. He grew up around athletics and athletes. His parents, who met while they were both playing at LSU, fostered a sense of determination and competition that is apparent every time Odell lines up on the gridiron.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Odell’s Father Was a Starting Running Back at LSU
There’s a reason Odell is a football player.
Odell Sr. was a star running back at LSU in the early ’90s, and Odell always knew he wanted to play on the gridiron. The New York Giants receiver told CBS Sports:
“I just told my mom, straight to her face, that I’m just practicing for Sundays. I’m going to be in the NFL.’ And she says to this day, it was such an honest answer, and I said it with such conviction, that everyone around me had no choice by to believe me. That’s what my dream always was, and that’s been my goal.”
Odell Sr. returned home to Texas after he graduated from LSU, playing briefly in the Arena League in San Antonio, but shortly after his son entered high school, he returned to New Orleans where he sells cars at Crown Buick. He’s a frequent spectator at his son’s games and regularly speaks about Odell on social media.
2. His Mother, Heather Van Norman, Was a Track All-American
While Beckham may have gotten his football love from his father, he got his speed from his mother. Heather was a track and field standout at nearly every level of competition from the time she entered high school in the mid-80’s.
She was one of the most dominant track stars in all of Minnesota high school history. In fact her father, Don Van Norman, once commented, “The high school kids here like to hang their medals on their letter jackets. If Heather pinned her medals on her jacket, she would be bulletproof.”
Odell’s mother was training for the Olympic trials in 1992 when she found out she was pregnant. She continued to train until the six-month mark, walked around the stadium until eight months and then went through pool workouts until she delivered her son. By the end of her career, Heather was a six-time All-American, leading LSU to three straight NCAA outdoor titles from 1991-93 and two indoor national titles in 1991 and 1993.
3. Odell’s Mother Also Coached Track at the College Level
Although Odell is close with his father, even taking to sending late-night texts about anything and everything, the New York Giants offensive standout has not been shy about how much he admires his mother.
After graduating from LSU, she turned to coaching track and field, finding her way to some of the top programs in the country. Her career began at Rice before she moved on to stints at Georgia Tech and seven years as the head coach at Tulane University, making 44 NCAA Mideast Regional appearances. Heather was most recently the head coach at Nicholls State track and field.
She also recently received her master’s degree from LSU.
4. His Stepfather, Derek Mills, Was a 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist
It isn’t only blood relatives that tie Odell to sports.
His stepfather, Derek Mills, was an Olympic gold medalist in 1996, running as part of the United States 4X400 relay. He was also on the team that appeared in the 1995 World Championships and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world in the 400 meters.
Mills, who has been a part of Odell’s life since he was five years old, ran college track at Georgia Tech where he earned his degree in electrical engineering. He has also served as an assistant volunteer coach at Tulane.
5. Odell Refers to Shaquille O’Neal as Uncle Shaq
Odell grew up on the LSU campus, splitting his time between classes and various sports practices. That, surprisingly enough, includes basketball practice. Odell’s father, Odell Sr., was good friends with Tigers standout Shaquille O’Neal and to this day, the New York Giants wideout refers to the basketball great as Uncle Shaq.
O’Neal, who attended LSU from 1989 – 1992, became friends with Odell Sr., because of their Texas ties. They grew up about 150 miles apart. O’Neal discussed his relationship with the elder Beckham, telling NJ Advance Media:
“(Beckahm, Sr.) was a top football player coming out of Texas, I was the top basketball player in Texas, so when we first got to LSU, we used to go to clubs, fight for each other, we were best friends. When he had his son, I called and congratulated him. I met junior many times. Of course, when [Odell Jr.] went to LSU everyone was excited.”
O’Neal said he doesn’t reach out to Odell much during the season but added that his allegiance to his quasi-nephew has forced him to realign his football fandom ever so slightly. He’ll even root for the New York Giants now. Except, when they’re playing the Cowboys.