BODOZER: Oliver aims to be the best ever
Published: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Branden Oliver is on a mission to be UB’s best football player of all-time.
Naturally, there are recurrent comparisons between Oliver and the last great UB tailback – the Green Bay Packers’ James Starks (Class of 2010), a Super Bowl champion who led the Bulls to the 2009 Mid-American Conference championship. But before Oliver had ever taken a handoff for the blue and white, Starks knew this day would come.
“He told me before he left that I was going to break his record,” said Oliver, who broke the school’s single-season rushing mark last year with 1,395 yards. “Ever since then, I’ve always persevered to do it. The type of person he was, he helped me believe I could do it. That helped me a lot.”
Oliver carried the offense in 2011 on his muscle-bound shoulders, setting all-time school records for rushing attempts (306), all-purpose yards (1,760) and 100-yard rushing games in a season (eight).
National analysts noticed his work. Oliver was named to three national preseason watch lists, which honor the top players in the country, this summer.
“It’s a great feeling to get all these accolades, but I’ve got to keep striving toward success because all those things are in the past now,” Oliver said. “It’s a whole new season.”
Starks and Oliver have similar running styles. They’re both power runners with surprising breakaway speed and shiftiness. Both catch the ball well out of the backfield and are strong in pass protection. Starks is bigger, but at just 5-foot-7 Oliver can hide behind his linemen, a vertically challenged trait that works in the favor of some NFL running backs, like Maurice Jones-Drew and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Oliver said he and Starks stay in touch on Facebook and hang out whenever Starks, a native of nearby Niagara Falls, comes back to town. They may have never played together, but Starks mentored Oliver, and now Oliver is doing the same for the three young running backs on Buffalo’s roster.
“I always tell them the best way to run is north and south and put fear in the defender’s heart,” Oliver said. “Usually the safety doesn’t expect you to come right downhill at him. After you do that, you can start shaking him.”
And shake them he has. Oliver amassed 13 touchdowns last year.
Could he be the greatest Bull to ever lace them up?
“My teammates tease me about that a lot,” Oliver said. “I feel like I’ve still got work to do. I think it’s funny. I just laugh and shake it off. I keep my head on right.”
Humility has been a big part of Oliver’s game since he arrived in Buffalo in 2010.
“There are a lot of people who get all these accolades and go crazy and start partying and that type of stuff, but I want to go the harder way,” he said. “That’s the easy way; anybody can do that. Who can really stay humble and do the right things?”
His Twitter feed (@bolive32) is a constant stream of Bible verses and positivity.
“I have a lot of eyes on my back, so I know I set an example for my teammates,” Oliver said.
His road hasn’t been easy. UB was the only school to offer Oliver, a Miami, Fla. native, a scholarship. He limped through a running back carousel his freshman year, finishing with 336 yards and no touchdowns.
He said that season was the hardest he’d ever had. After a summer of insane conditioning, Oliver came back in 2011 a different player. Bigger, stronger, faster and – perhaps most importantly – smarter.
“He inspires people by his play,” said head coach Jeff Quinn. “He inspires me.
“People ask if I’m surprised by him breaking Starks’ record and I say no, because I saw it every day in practice.”
Oliver’s dream is to play for the Detroit Lions some day, like his idol, Barry Sanders.
His stats, skill and attitude have led some to conclude he’s already the best to ever play for UB.
And he’s only a junior.