Sky is the limit for try-scoring machine Odongo

His skills saw him get an invite for trials at Daystar University, where he caught the eyes of Falcons coach Caleb Bosire and subsequently getting a scholarship.

In Summary

•Two years later, speed merchant Patrick Odongo needs no introduction to the Kenyan rugby fraternity. 

•For starters, Odongo almost single-handedly led Shujaa to victory at the Dubai Challenger Series Cup on 14th January 2024 , by making a total of 11 tries throughout the tournament. 

Patrick Odongo in action during the Challenger Series in Dubai in January
Patrick Odongo in action during the Challenger Series in Dubai in January

Five years ago, a young Form One student ditched athletics to try out rugby at Agoro Sare High School.

Initially, Patrick Odongo was only looking for opportunities for school tours.

With rugby, there was a guarantee. He slowly fell in love with the oval ball, embraced the Sevens game and mastered the art of try-scoring.

Two years later, speed merchant Odongo needs no introduction.

Odongo almost single-handedly led Shujaa to victory at the Dubai Challenger Series Cup on January 14 with 11 tries.

He had a hat-trick in the semifinal as Shujaa beat Uruguay 21-5 and a brace in the 12-5 win over Chile in the final.

“I used to run 100m in high school but one day the school rugby team captain Ian Kitutu approached me and said, you have great speed but it won’t take you far. If you want more outings, join the rugby team. Grab the ball, dash and place it over the whitewash, you will learn the rules and skills later. That’s how the journey started,” Said Odongo.

So good was Odongo that he helped Agoro Sare win the county and regional championships in 2019, thanks to his fast learning and pace that left defenders gasping for breath.

The rising star scrapped through hard tackles and injuries that almost saw him quit.

A dislocated shoulder and the Covid-19 pandemic in late 2020 and early 2021 derailed Odongo ’s journey as he kept his distance from the game.

He still gave 100 per cent in class and kept fit until he completed his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).

His skills saw him get an invite for trials at Daystar University, where he caught the eyes of Falcons' coach, Caleb Bosire, and subsequently got a scholarship.

At 21, the second-year Bachelor of Community Development student’s CV is full of achievements that some athletes only dream of, a feat that has seen him get comparisons with all-time Kenya Sevens top try scorer, Collins Injera.

The speedster’s first individual achievement was emerging as the top try scorer during his Sportpesa National 7s Circuit debut season in 2022.

Sports personality of the month Patrick Odongo at RFUEA grounds on Wednesday
Sports personality of the month Patrick Odongo at RFUEA grounds on Wednesday

This prompted the then-national Sevens team head coach Damian McGrath to call him up.

He, however, waited longer for his Shujaa debut due to a passport hitch, which saw him miss the World Rugby Seven Series.

“I had not obtained my passport by the time the team was travelling to Cape Town and Dubai in 2022, so I missed both tours and later Hong Kong Sevens,” Said Odongo.

During the season-ender, Shujaa were relegated after a 12-7 defeat to Canada in the London 7s play-off final at Twickenham, on May 23, 2023.

It was a sad day for Kenyan rugby but Odongo is happy to be part of the Shujaa side tasked with ensuring Kenya reclaim their core status.

Shujaa Debut

The rising star earned his long-awaited first cap, in September 2023, and was now ready for bigger tournaments, unlike the high school functions he once craved for.

With a passport, lightning speed, technique and power, Odongo ’s time to conquer rugby sevens had come. But as fate would have it, just when he was named in the team to the Rugby Africa Sevens championships/2024 Paris Olympics qualifiers, he received the sad news that his ailing mother, Sophia Atieno, had passed on.

Patrick Odongo (2nd R) after helping Shujaa qualify for the Paris Olympics
Patrick Odongo (2nd R) after helping Shujaa qualify for the Paris Olympics

Despite the agony, Odongo stuck with the team in Zimbabwe since it was his mother's dream for him to represent the country.

Step forward Odongo, and the results were there for the world to see, as the special talent emerged as the top try scorer in the tournament with seven tries.

He was also the hero in the final with two tries as Kenya beat rivals South Africa 17-12 in a hard-fought battle.

The Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) dedicated their tournament victory and Olympic qualification to Odongo’s mother.

“My mum was my number one fan. She encouraged me to work hard. She always prayed for me and looked forward to my Shujaa debut. Unfortunately, she never saw me fly the Kenyan flag,” said Odongo.

Shujaa head coach Kevin Wambua said Odongo’s heroics in Harare won the fans’ hearts. The technical bench was also impressed with his mental strength and maturity.

“I talked with him before heading to Zimbabwe and he decided he was mentally stable to join us. He would have stayed home to mourn but erected to put the country first,” said Wambua.

For his remarkable achievements in Harare, he was named the LG/Sports Journalists Association of Kenya (SJAK) Personality of September 2023, winning a double-door LG Refrigerator, and a personal plaque.

To clinch the accolade, Odongo beat Harambee Starlets’ goalkeeper Anedi Kundu, who was instrumental as Kenya knocked out Cameroon’s Indomitable Lionesses in the first round of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

The journey has been bumpy and with murky waters but Odongo kept his cool, taking one step at a time, albeit with the help from his coaches, teammates, family and friends.

Juggling between classes, training with Falcons and featuring for Shujaa is not easy but Odongo believes self-drive and discipline are key.

His former Agoro Sare teammates Claude Nyamiro and Wycliffe Ogutu later joined Kenya under 20 side Chipu.

Patrick Odongo (R) with Shujaa co-captain Vincent Onyala
Patrick Odongo (R) with Shujaa co-captain Vincent Onyala

Dancing at home

Done with Zimbabwe and Dubai tournaments, the next stage was his homecoming at the Safari Sevens. Having danced abroad, it was time to dance a yard, and it couldn’t get better than playing at the home of rugby — RFUEA grounds along Ngong Road, in November 2023.

Under the leadership of co-captains Vincent Onyala and Tony Omondi, Odongo played a starring role as Shujaa brushed aside all their opponents from the preliminary rounds to the final.

They hammered Tropics Sevens from the United Kingdom and South Africa All Stars 33-5 and 36-0 respectively.

They humbled neighbours Uganda 17-5 in the quarters, before seeing off Germany 19-5 in the semifinals.

The unstoppable Odongo sped past opponents, leaving defenders grabbing thin air, as he scored Seven tries in the three-day tournament.

His magical moment came in the final, where he had two tries as Shujaa blanked Samurai 19-0 to defend their title.

“I was happy to play in front of the home crowd. The support, the roars and the love from the stands pushed us all the way," said Odongo, adding that to have the crowd chant his name and lift the trophy was a special moment.

Coincidentally, finalists Samurai were coached by former Shujaa captain and all-time Kenyan top try scorer with 271 tries, Injera.

“He is still young. Despite being his first season, he has shown he’s a champion and there is still more to come from him. Records are made to be broken and he can make it if he maintains form, discipline and consistency," Wambua said of his young gun.

Former Shujaa captain Andrew Amonde, the Shujaa strength and conditioning coach, says a lot has changed in the sevens team since McGrath left.

Great stars like Willy Ambaka and Billy “the kid” Odhiambo retired as Kenya's golden generation logged out, leaving gaping holes.

"Odongo, alongside co-captains Onyala and Tony Omondi, among others, are coming up well and they have to be given time and groomed well to ensure they propel Shujaa back to the World Rugby Sevens Series where we belong," said Amonde.

2023 SOYA award nominee, injury and missing Uruguay

For his remarkable debut in the Kenya Sevens squad, Odongo was nominated for the 2023 Sports Personality of the Year Awards, (SOYA).

He was pitted against the late world marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum, Daniel Simiu, Emmanuel Wanyonyi and volleyballer Simon Korir.

Kiptum won the award but sharing the stage with legends was a great feeling for Odongo. He believes he deserved it.

Unfortunately, Odongo missed the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in Montevideo, Uruguay on March 8-10 after a cheekbone injury while in action for the Falcons.

Shujaa finished third after a 31-12 win over Chile in a repeat of the Dubai final. They are joint top of the standings with Uruguay after amassing 36 points over two legs. 

Odongo is expected to return for the third leg in Munich, Germany, on May 18-19.

“I haven’t had any rest for the longest time and the injury may have been a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to catch up on my studies,” said Odongo.

He is currently focusing on his academics and helping Falcons gain promotion to the Kenya Cup. Falcons play South Coast Pirates in a KRU Championship semifinal in Diani this weekend.

Patrick Odongo scores a try during the Sevens Challenger Series in Dubai
Patrick Odongo scores a try during the Sevens Challenger Series in Dubai

Odongo said his journey could not have been as interesting were it not for the help he has received from former internationals, sponsors and the Ministry of Sports — through Talanta Hela.

“Our sponsors Sportpesa have ensured players’ salaries, flights and welfare are taken care of, which gives players more time to concentrate on the game and give their best,” said Odongo.

Several top Kenya Cup clubs have approached Odongo, offering good deals. However, he feels indebted to Falcons and Daystar University and will continue serving them wholeheartedly.

Ailing father/medical help

While injured and taking a break from the limelight, Odongo revealed his father, Joanes Okongo, urgently requires corrective heart surgery at the Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral Hospital, with the procedure estimated to cost Sh1.5 million.

He is appealing for funds from the public through the KRU and 18 pints of blood.

“My dad and my brother, Stephen Okong'o — who previously featured for Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University — played a big role in my career. I wish to see Dad back on his feet, and I’m working round the clock to achieve this. I believe God will intervene,” said Odongo.

When not playing rugby and related activities like gym work and swimming, Odongo listens to dancehall and afro beats. He also loves gaming.

Odongo has a top speed of 10.01 seconds in 100m but laughs off the idea of taking on African champion Ferdinand Omanyala, saying he’ll stick to the oval ball.

Odongo admires former Blitzbokke star Seabelo Senatla of South Africa and prays for health and consistency as he eyes helping Shujaa back to the World Sevens Series. He also dreams of a medal at the Paris Olympics.