Top 10 of the D1 era - No. 10: Branden Oliver

Despite size, Oliver became workhorse back and program’s all-time rushing leader

By TOM DINKI
On April 15, 2014

  • Former running back Branden Oliver became the Bulls’ all-time leading rusher this past season with his single-single season record 1,535 rushing yards. Chad Cooper, The Spectrum

When former Bulls running back James Starks - the school's all-time leading rusher at the time - graduated after the 2009 season, it not only left a major hole in the backfield, but also marked the end of the career of one of the greatest athletes UB had ever seen.

Little did Bulls fans know that the next great Bulls running back was already on campus: Branden Oliver.

When Oliver was a freshman, Starks - now with the Green Bay Packers - told him he would break his records. This past season, Oliver fulfilled Starks' prophecy by surpassing him as UB's all-time leading rusher.

"I just want to be remembered for giving everything I got every time I stepped on the field, just acknowledging God because without him I know I wouldn't have been able to do it," Oliver said.

Despite being undersized for a running back at 5-foot-8, Oliver was the definition of a workhorse back for the Bulls over his four-year career (2010-13). He is the school's all time-leader in carries with 866. What Oliver lacked in size, he made up in power.

Oliver said he developed his strength and power in the weight room. He did 26 reps on the bench press (225 pounds) at his Pro Day March 4. He used a combination of power running and breakaway speed to overcome his size and become the program's all-time leading rusher.       

Oliver first burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2011, rushing for a then UB single-season record 1,395 yards. After a grade-two MCL tear caused him to miss five games his junior season, Oliver bounced back this year to not only shatter his own single-season records, but several all-time records.

As a senior in 2013, Oliver rushed for a single-season record 1,535 yards, in the process becoming UB's all-time leader rusher with 4,049 career rushing yards, surpassing his friend Starks.

Despite being teammates for only one year, Oliver and Starks have maintained a friendship off the field and had dinner together a few months ago. Oliver has himself become a mentor to the Bulls' current running backs, instilling confidence in them the same way Starks once did for Oliver by telling him he would break his records.

"I just appreciate him telling me that," Oliver said. "I told Anthone Taylor and Devin Campbell and Jordon Johnson and those guys the same things: just to go out and break my records."

Oliver's play was a major reason for the Bulls' success in 2013, leading them to their second-ever bowl game appearance.

During Buffalo's 6-0 start to Mid-American Conference play, Oliver rushed for at least 128 yards in every game. He finished with eight 100-plus yard rushing games in 2013, setting the school record for career 100-yard rushing games with 20. The next closest player (Anthony Swan) has 13. Oliver also set UB's Division I-A single-game rushing record of 249 yards against Ohio Nov. 5, and the single-game rushing touchdown record with four against Kent State Oct. 26.

Oliver calls the game against Ohio Nov. 5 his favorite memory from his UB career, in part because it was his last game in UB Stadium.

Even though it may not have seemed obvious when Starks left, Oliver has cemented his place alongside his friend as one of the top running backs in school history.

 

email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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