Freshman jolts running game
After a competitive preseason camp, head coach Jeff Quinn announced freshman Branden Oliver as Buffalo's starting running back.
At the start of camp, four players, including seniors Brandon Thermilus and Ike Nduka, were in consideration for the starting job. Thermilus and Nduka, who carried the load for the Bulls last season, were also competing against Oliver and sophomore Jeffvon Gill who also saw playing time a year ago.
"Four guys for one spot," Quinn said. "But the good thing is that all four understand [what we're doing]. They each bring a dynamic to our offense. We want the all-encompassing guy – the guy who can do it all – but at the same time each of them provide the offense a different dynamic."
Quinn stressed upon his arrival in Buffalo that his evaluations of players would not be based on last season's performances and that everyone would have a chance to prove himself. The players, especially the running backs, understood Quinn's philosophy and began to push each other in practice in order to get better.
"Everyone has their fair shot," Nduka said. "Everybody is driving someone else to work harder. You have to show up each day and compete. When I see someone make a great play, I have to make a great play, and it just trickles down to everybody."
Oliver seemed to be a good fit in Quinn's high-tempo offensive system because he's an electrical runner who has great quickness downfield. After redshirting last season, Oliver was ready to step up and prove himself.
"I knew I should have played last year, but I redshirted," Oliver said. "I knew I had ability to play and that gave me even more confidence. I was even more hungry to take the job this year."
The competition in camp made the locker room stronger and closer. On the practice field, Oliver acknowledged that Nduka and Thermilus served as mentors to him, using their experience to help him get better. Overall, he feels the competition brought his game play to a higher level.
Oliver had some knee problems in the spring, but Quinn feels that his durability should not be a problem.
"Branden [Oliver] is a guy who comes out here with a relentless effort each and every day," Quinn said. "We really liked him in the spring but he nicked up his knee a little bit. But that's not a big deal because he is just a tremendous athlete and a focused young man."
However, injuries are inevitable over the course of a season and Quinn stresses a "Next-Bull-in" mentality as a way to keep every player motivated and focused. Players know their number can be called at any time and are excited and prepared for that opportunity.
"We always have to have the Next-Bull-in mentality that Coach Quinn talks about," Thermilus said. "Whichever guy it is, if one guy goes down, the next guy has to be ready. If the next guy is called in, he has to be ready to know his assignment and linemen."
Oliver was very excited upon hearing the news and says he will work hard and provide a lot of exciting plays in the upcoming season.