Q&A with former UB running back and current NFL player Branden Oliver
DP: What was your time at Buffalo like?
BO: It was great man, I think I did a lot. I know you always believe you’ll do great things but once it actually happens it’s surreal. All the teammates along the way sacrificing for each other, coaches, build those unconditional relationships and friendships they go a long way. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Coming out I wanted to go to FSU or Georgia but I was happy that Buffalo was my only offer and if I could do it all over again I would do it the exact same way.
DP: Is there anything you miss about your time at UB?
BO: I think the comradery’s different, money’s not involved – I think that’s the biggest thing. You guys grind together, you have to stay with each other, in the summer, throughout the year. You’re in rooms either in the dorms or in an apartment with your teammates. You just grind together, you struggle together, you sacrifice together. That’s really what I miss the most.
What was the motivation to come back and get your degree?
I just felt like I wasted a lot of time in the classroom. I could have been done. It’s really hard to remain focused. It was just football, football, football. When I got in the NFL, I realized it’s not gonna last forever. Of course my dreams are still big, I feel like I’m still gonna have a great and successful and long career. But I wasted an opportunity while I was at UB getting my degree. I didn’t honor the sacrifice of my mother and father working hard for me as a kid growing up and me being able to get to a college. Coach Turner Gil who brought me in and put me on scholarship and Jeff Quinn keeping me on scholarship, I think it was only right to come back and get my degree and not just let it go to waste.
Did you have a bit of a chip on your shoulder after going undrafted?
Yeah, of course, I always got a chip on my shoulder no matter what. I had a chip on my shoulder when I was the leading rusher at UB. When I was coming in and got redshirted my freshman year to me breaking records, I still had that chip on my shoulder. Going to the NFL, yeah I had a chip on my shoulder, I felt like I was just a diamond in the rough. And God did it for a reason for him to get the glory.
What led to your signing with the Chargers?
Actually they called me first. The coach called me and I thought that would be a better fit for me because Donald Brown had just came to the Chargers so the chargers had Donald Brown and Ryan Matthews and the coaching we had. Indy had Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw, so I just thought it would be a better fit for me. At the three day rookie minicamp, I did great. Came straight to San Diego a couple days after that and from there on just hit the ground running.
What was it like to score your first NFL touchdown in front of the fans at Qualcomm Stadium?
It felt great. That was my first preseason game. I always tell everybody that’s my favorite game. It just felt like I found the hole. It felt like a relief that I can do this.
What was it like to make your first start against the Raiders and Khalil Mack?
It was pretty funny. I played my first game at Buffalo and I got my first start against my boy, my brother Khalil Mack. It just felt like, with him being on the other side, it kind of just felt like practice a little bit, just from being together for five years in Buffalo. And getting to play against guys, especially Charles Woodson.
What did it mean to you to go from undrafted to finishing the top rookie rusher?
I think it’s about being patient, knowing your worth, being confident in what you can do, no matter what anyone says. They’ll kind of throw your dreams out the window. Keep your head down and keep going, not everybody’s gonna understand your purpose on earth. You don’t have to look for anyone else’s approval when you have God’s approval, that’s all you need.
How have you been handling the injuries over the last two seasons?
I’ve just been keeping my mind ready, mentally that’s the biggest challenge. After this season it will be a year and a half I haven’t stepped on the field in the regular season, that’s the biggest challenge. But like I said I believe there’s great things to come, I believe everything happens for a reason. I will continue to be patient while im working, I know God’s with me. I just gone done with rehab a couple hours ago and about to go get some more. Taking care of my body and just trying not to go too fast, especially with an Achilles injury, each injury is different. I’ll be up and running in December, before the month of December is over with I’ll be running; that’s my goal.
Have you watched any of the Bulls games this year?
I’ve watched a couple of them, I’ve watched a couple of them.
What do you think of the team this year?
They still building, building up front. I think Jordan Johnson is how they go, I don’t know if people know that or not but that’s how they go. I think you put the ball in his hands enough times, at least 20 to 25, I think he needs to get the ball at least 25 times a game, whether it’s combined or running and receiving and I think they’ll be able to go. Defensively, I haven’t really seen much, I know Boise [Ross] has been in and out. Really man, I just think they’re in the building process honestly. You’ve got Coach Leipold in his second year. They lost a lot last year, they lost Joe Licata last year, Matt Weiser. So I think honestly it’s a real building process for them still.
What have you seen out of Jordan Johnson this year as well as when you were here with him in Buffalo?
He was always coachable, he always wanted to learn, he was always hungry. His transition from quarterback to running back coming out of high school was great. And the great thing about him is he had a total of five years with Coach Simon so he was able to learn more than I learned. It will benefit him, I believe he will be able to start at the next level and it will benefit him definitely just learning under Coach Simon, that’s the grand master. I’m not a grasshopper anymore I used to be but just take from whatever he’s teaching us, he’s the running back guru. He’s got the juice.
Dan Petruccelli is a sports staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com