Friday, July 27, 2001

Former Oahu resident James Odom played football at
Kailua High School before moving on to Bethel
College in Kansas, where he also joined the football
squad. Here, he is No. 7, a running back listed at
5 feet 11 inches and 210 pounds.

Kailua football
star is accused
of ID theft

James 'Jay' Odom was a
talented running back for
the championship team

By B.J. Reyes

By most accounts, James Odom was your average high school student -- an athletic type who had transferred from the mainland and managed to fit in comfortably in his new surroundings.

He happened to be a pretty good football player, too, helping Kailua High School to a conference championship in 1995, his only season on the team.

"He was just one of the boys," said Kui Fox, the quarterback on that 1995 team.

News that his former teammate was really a 20-something from Florida came as a shock.

"What?" he asked. "That's pretty amazing."

His reaction was not unique. Those who remembered James "Jay" Odom from his days at Kailua found it hard to believe that he was arrested last week in Kansas on charges that include identity theft and forgery.

"Holy smokes! That is a trip," said Darren Johnson, who took over as Kailua coach after the 1995 season but got to know the student during off-season workouts.

Police said Lonnie Webster assumed the identity of James Odom after Webster's driver's license was suspended when he was in his 20s. He allegedly used the identity of his 16-year-old Florida friend to get a new license when he moved to Hawaii.

The ruse began to unravel last week when the real Odom, 24 and a painter in Pensacola, Fla., who never finished high school, got a copy of his credit report after being turned down for a car loan, police said. Odom turned the report over to his stepfather, a Pensacola police detective, who tracked down Webster in Wichita, Kan.

Before his arrest, Webster was one semester shy of graduating with a liberal arts degree from Bethel College in Wichita, where he had been recruited to play football out of Kailua High in 1996.

Webster, now 29, was in the Harvey County jail and was unavailable for comment. His attorney, Bill Brown, did not return telephone messages left by the Star-Bulletin seeking comment yesterday.

Police said Webster told them he wanted a driver's license and a way out of Pensacola, and things just snowballed from there.

Josh Lui, a 1997 graduate of Kailua, was among the first students to meet the new transfer from Florida.

"He was a big hit at our school," Lui said. "He played football and baseball. He was a nice guy and never caused trouble.

"He looked older but he didn't seem older," Lui added. "He acted like us. He didn't act old or anything."

Both Lui and Fox said they only knew Webster in school and did not really hang out with him outside of Kailua High. One former Kailua football player who did hang out with Webster outside of school said he only met one relative.

"We met his sister's husband," said the player, who asked not to be identified. "That's who he was living with in Kailua."

Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said it would not have been unusual for a student to enroll in school under the circumstance of being a transfer living with a relative or sponsor.

"It used to be fairly common to have students attend our public schools, even for a short term, when they're basically living here on their own or with a sponsor other than their parents," Knudsen said. "If he had provided that as an explanation, that would've been accepted.

"They would still require the transcript and records from the previous school -- grades, health records and things that would be a fairly complex package to create."

It was not immediately known what documentation Webster provided to school officials.

Administrators at Kailua High were on vacation this week and unavailable for comment, a school secretary said.

Webster left behind little evidence that he attended Kailua. The name James Odom is listed without a picture in the 1996 yearbook, and he also does not appear in the football team photo.

His picture does appear in a team photo of the 2000 Bethel College football squad.

As Odom, Webster was a star fullback on the Kailua team that won the Oahu Interscholastic Association White Conference championship in 1995, even earning honorable-mention honors on the Star-Bulletin's conference all-star team.

At Bethel he enrolled for one semester in 1996, dropped out, then enrolled again in 1998. He played in parts of four football seasons before he was injured last year after playing in only two games.

Brad Hewahewa, the defensive coordinator for Kailua who was a defensive back coach in 1995, said that at 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, Webster was big but not unusually so for a player out of Florida, which has a reputation for producing top-flight collegiate players.

But Webster also impressed coaches with his workout habits.

"He had a great work ethic," Hewahewa recalled. "He worked his butt off. You don't find many guys that have a work ethic like that."

Bethel College and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics are investigating whether the school will face any disciplinary action over Webster's participation.

Keith Amemiya, executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, said it is too early to say whether Kailua might face any sanctions such as having to forfeit games in which Webster played.

"We need more information at this point before making any determination," Amemiya said.

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