Bo-verload: Bulls’ Oliver adds brawn, terrifies opponents
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 07, 2012 @ 10:47am
UB’s Branden Oliver stood in front of me, arms crossed, bearing a satisfied smile on his face. He’d just told an amusing anecdote about how he still can beat his Bulls’ teammate Khalil Mack in a race, a multi-year battle for fleet-footed supremacy.
During his quick story—where he admitted that a UB freshman, Devin Campbell, was faster than both him and Mack—I took in what a physical freak Oliver was. At the risk of sounding uncomfortable, the star running back’s triceps bulged—something rather inhuman considering his arms were crossed, when triceps are most elongated. Not that he looked small last season, but the junior appeared more like a linebacker or a strong safety than an FBS tailback at UB’s media day.
Oliver disclosed that his playing weight was actually 190 pounds last season, not the 200 that was listed.
“Just working with Coach [Zach] Duval this summer, I put on 15 more pounds since last season,” Oliver admitted, raising his playing weight to 205 pounds. Remember, Oliver stands just 5’8, giving him the shape of a bowling ball—or a squat battering ram.
The additional strength is a scary proposition for MAC opponents in Oliver’s junior year. He wasn’t stellar by any stretch against Georgia, but he still mustered 111 yards and a touchdown. Facing much leaner front sevens in conference, notching a few 200+ yard games this year isn’t out of the question for “Bo,” as head coach Jeff Quinn’s offense is predicated on handing Oliver the football.
UB running backs coach Matt Simon, a mentor of Oliver’s who’s also been instrumental in Buffalo’s recruiting, is no stranger to handling backs with high expectations, as he coached Greg Lewis, the very first Doak Walker Award (college football’s best runner) winner, while at Washington in 1990. As running backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens, Simon tutored Jamal Lewis to the tune of four-straight 1,000+ yard seasons and a Super Bowl win.
“[Oliver] has been programmed to expect this kind of attention, and he’s been programmed to approach it in an even-keeled manner,” Simon said in reference to the preseason watch lists and award nominations on which Oliver was listed.
“It’s just a list,” Oliver said. “Your name is just on a list. The real goal is to win a MAC Championship.”
While the likelihood of a Maxwell Award (given to college football’s best player) or a Walker Award (given to the nation’s top running back) seems bleak for Oliver—USC’s Matt Barkley and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball are the favorites for those, respectively—it’s likely that Oliver eclipses Buffalo’s single-season rushing record that he set last season, knocking NFLer James Starks from atop the ladder.
It’s unnerving for opponents, then, that the runner nicknamed “Bo-Dozer” has bulked up even more without losing much of the trademark shiftiness that former head coach Turner Gill lauded after recruiting him from Florida.
“We’ve tried to add some power and explosiveness,” Simon explained. “Those are a couple variables that we think we can add to our game, and I think we want to give him a more dynamic role in the offense from the standpoint of being able to do different things.”
Asked to expand, Simon remained mum, but he was likely alluding to the use of Oliver out of the Wildcat formation—“Olive-cat” is the best I can do to customize—that proved successful on his touchdown plunge against Georgia.
Checking in with his second string fullback Rashad Jean—hey, fullbacks often feel left out of media coverage—the junior blocker chose “power” as Oliver’s best trait.
“He’s not the biggest back, but he’ll surprise you with how much power he runs with,” Jean said, before boasting that, while the overall weight-lifting comparison between the 246-pound Jean and the 205-pound Oliver was surprisingly similar, the fullback could easily out-squat the star tailback.
Oliver’s skill-set will be on full display at 6 p.m. Saturday at UB Stadium, where the Bulls host Morgan State in the home opener. Tickets can be purchased here.
After plugging his teammates and emphasizing the goal of a UB MAC Championship for most of the interview, Oliver finally dropped a bit of confidence.
“I have no problem putting the team on my back.”
(Photo credit by Dave Marino from last year’s Northern Illinois game— full gallery here).