Expectations can be a funny thing, especially in the game of college football. So often in a sport where players have a time span of 4 years or less, the attention is turned to the next big thing every spring. A desire to see the fresh blood entering the program and often judged by a rating of stars given by rather anonymous eyes. Praise is rained down on young high school athletes yet to succeed outside the comforts of their home.
Buffalo, as a city that is relatively new to the glitz surrounding the recruiting process, hasn’t really gotten the fever for it that many of the college football towns have… probably because Buffalo hasn’t ever been a big fan of heaping praise on anyone or anything until it’s proven itself for the city. A prerequisite for sporting affection in this town is your blood and sweat, a sign that you’re in this as deep as we are. There’s a Braveheart- like unspoken agreement that their blood and our tears unite the clans to make us one.
Buffalo embraces the underdog that works harder than the other guy to be great and the star that refuses to acknowledge that he is just that. The UB Bulls have that man on their roster right now. His name is Branden Oliver and it’s time for Buffalo sports fans to take notice.
Running back Branden Oliver came out of high school and didn’t see the big lights or attention of a “five star” recruit, but he certainly has the attention of the college football world now.
A two-year captain at his high school in Miami, Oliver found his way on campus in Amherst for the 2009 season. He redshirted that year & started to impress in 2010 when he earned a starting role. It was the first season under new Head Coach Jeff Quinn, who brought with him a spread passing based offense. Oliver rushed for a mere 298 yards that first year but made an impression.
In the offseason, Coach Quinn went back and adjusted his traditionally pass-oriented offense to feature Oliver. Branden took the added responsibility and began what would be an assault on the record books in the preseason. Recalling a story at the UB Kickoff Lunch, told by guest speaker Mark May, it was Oliver who caught his eye. May would tell a story about receiving a tour of the football facilities the night before & while there he spotted the silhouette of a guy in a dark room lit only by a television. He walked in and it was Oliver staying late to watch film.
The extra work paid off and in 2011 the man affectionately referred to as “Bo” rewarded his coach with a breakout year. Oliver broke UB’s single season marks for rushing yards (1,395), carries (306) & all-purpose yards (1,760).
Oliver packs a huge punch despite his 5’8” frame thanks to his love of the weight room. I’d encourage you to read Bob DiCesare’s article from last year on Oliver’s workout habits where it’s appropriately said, “The young man has more muscles than Red Lobster.” His build & style of play led my colleague Nick Mendola to give Oliver the moniker of “The Bodozer” and when you see him play, the name fits.
His bulky frame provides the base for delivering punishment on opposing defenses & the ability to carry the ball on every running play, literally. Last season of 333 running plays called for a running back, Oliver handled 306… and of the 27 rushes not in his hands, 15 came in the 4th quarter of a blowout win over Akron. (Bo already had 235yds & 2 td’s by then). Despite the heavy load, Oliver rarely fumbled the ball, losing possession just twice.
Oliver is a true throwback, not just statistically, but in the way he carries the ball. Never avoiding contact, always pushing for the extra yard, running over defenders to take what he wants and, most impressively, never coming out of the game. Bo found himself on the field for every offensive play that mattered, exiting early only in games against Stony Brook & Akron when the outcome was decided before the 4th quarter.
Fitting the mold of our blue collar city, Oliver is a lunch pail & hard hat guy despite playing one of the traditional glamour spots in football… so much so that last season he actually wore a blue hard hat to each game.
But while his physicality defines his football character, it’s his speed & elusiveness combined with that toughness that makes Oliver the playmaking threat that he is. The combination brings to mind the game of Maurice Jones-Drew, another running back short on height but big on everything that matters.
He finished last season as first team All-MAC but coming into this year he’s not just a conference-known player any more. Oliver has now seen his name show up on watch lists for several national awards, the Maxwell Award (give to the nation’s top college football player), the Doak Walker Award (nation’s top running back) & the Walter Camp Award (nation’s top overall player.)
Oliver has also caught the eye of the people at EA Sports, the makers of the popular NCAA Football video game franchise. In the latest edition, NCAA Football 2013, Bo was given a 90 out of 100 overall rating. That’s the highest rating of any offensive player in the MAC.
Lofty hopes and added attention can cause even the best of players to regress after the record-setting type of year that Oliver had, and let’s face it, the Bulls need their best player to be great to get back to a bowl game this season. But, the preseason acclaim couldn’t have been put on a more suited person. His work ethic and humble attitude make him equipped to not just handle the physical load that will be asked of him again but the mental task of striving to meet expectations.
He has taken the oath for his city. He’s given his blood and sweat to be the best he can be and he’s only getting better.
Branden Oliver is Buffalo’s favorite athlete. The city just hasn’t realized it yet.