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Coach Bo: Oliver takes setback in stride, mentors young Campbell

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Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11

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Photo Illustration by Haider Alidina

Junior running back Branden Oliver was dominating opponents until he suffered a grade-two torn left MCL on Sept. 19 at home against Kent State.


2 Corinthians 12:9 – My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Junior running back Branden Oliver was on his way to the best rushing season in UB history for the second straight year. On Sept. 19, on national television, the all-everything back exited UB’s game against Kent State with a left-leg injury.

He missed the second half and his team lost, but the damage appeared minor. He had never missed more than two weeks in his life and was listed as day to day, expected to suit up the next weekend against UConn.

He has not played since. The Bulls have not won a game since he went down.

Until last weekend, Oliver’s status remained day to day and nobody knew why he wasn’t playing. The athletic department kept his status secretive to bewilder opponents. Oliver is in the final stages of recovering from a grade-two left MCL tear.

Essentially, he was the offense.

It seemed only an injury could slow Oliver, who was on pace to break his own school record for rushing yards. It would make sense for him to be frustrated, devastated, depressed. But that is not Oliver’s style.

The star back – who was named to three national award watch-lists before the season and made first-team all-MAC last year – counters adversity with positivity. He says he relies on his Christian faith to get him through arduous times. He has taken the misfortune as a chance to guide explosive-but-inexperienced freshman Devin Campbell – the current starter who was fourth on UB’s depth chart at the beginning of the season.

Judging by Campbell’s performance, Oliver might have a future in coaching.

James 1:2-4 – Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

The Bulls’ monumental struggles – punctuated by a 45-3 embarrassment at Northern Illinois two weeks ago and an uninspiring 20-6 loss against Pittsburgh in UB’s homecoming game last Saturday – are no coincidence.

Oliver, who set the school’s modern Division I record with 1,395 rushing yards last season, is clearly the Bulls’ biggest offensive weapon. He had 425 yards through two and a half games. He was competing with the NCAA’s best backs and could have won some national hardware, not to mention his NFL stock was burgeoning.

Then he got stuck between two defensive linemen on a draw play in the second quarter against Kent State. He said he should have gone down but fought for extra yards and tore his MCL as a result.

Sounds like enough to get a normal college athlete down. But Oliver doesn’t see things like an everyday 21-year-old.

“It’s hard watching on the sidelines, but I’ve just got to keep my faith and keep motivating my teammates,” Oliver said. “I’ve just got to be patient. I know God has it all in his plan and something great is going to come out of it.”

Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Campbell was thrown into the fire after injuries to Oliver, back-up sophomore James Potts and third-string junior Brandon Murie. He has not disappointed. No true freshman in UB’s modern Division I era had ever rushed for more than 100 yards in a game.

Campbell has done it twice.

“We feel good about where Devin is,” said head coach Jeff Quinn after the Bulls’ loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday. “He’s performed as well as any true freshman I’ve coached at the running back position.”

The young back said his success is thanks largely to Oliver.

“He’s been guiding me along, keeping my head in it,” Campbell said. “He teaches me my reads, how he did it and what he does in certain situations. It makes me feel really good, really comfortable on this team, to know that I have somebody who is mentoring me in a way that I can be just like him and be as successful as him.”

Before Green Bay Packers running back James Starks left UB, he said he knew Oliver would break his rushing records. Now Oliver is passing on the tradition to Campbell.

Campbell thinks the two can complement each other when Oliver returns. The freshman said he has the speed and Oliver has the power and vision. Either can decoy and confuse the defense. Quinn is putting together a two-back system to integrate both backs.

“I came up here to get on the field in some way,” Campbell said. “I knew Bo was the guy, he was the big-time player, so I just wanted to get on the field any way I could. I’m thankful I’ve gotten this opportunity.”

Oliver’s biggest advice for the freshman? He reminds Campbell of it constantly: attack the edge and don’t be afraid to cut back.

“He has the speed to do it all,” Oliver said. “It’s been great to see his development.”

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Campbell will likely be even more dangerous when he has put in time with the Bulls’ world-class strength and conditioning coach, Zach Duval, who helped Oliver become the player he is today.

Quinn told Campbell to “make himself noticed” every day on the practice field. UB’s coach knew the youngster was special before he ever stepped into UB Stadium.

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