When Branden Oliver chose to sign with the San Diego Chargers after going undrafted in 2014, he knew what he was getting himself into. The Chargers’ already have 2013 breakout star, Ryan Mathews, spell back extraordinaire, Danny Woodhead, and the team’s biggest free agent signing, Donald Brown, at the running back position. Add to that, the team acquired do-it-all back, Marion Grice, in the sixth round of May’s draft and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of room for another running back to make the 53-man roster. But don’t tell that to Branden Oliver.
Oliver is no stranger to adversity. The young back from Miami, Florida only had one FBS scholarship offer (according to Rivals) to go play football at Buffalo University. He committed to play for the Bulls in 2009 and has done nothing but overcome the odds ever since.
A player with only one scholarship offer out of high school who makes the NFL is an impressive enough story as is, but the turmoil Oliver overcame in college speaks to his incredible toughness. Oliver went to the Empire State to play for a young coach by the name of Turner Gill. In 2009, the freshman took a redshirt season to bulk up in order to handle the workload at the collegiate level. Following his first year in Buffalo, Gill bolted for a job with the Kansas Jayhawks and Oliver never got a chance to play for the coach who recruited him. Buffalo hired a new coach named Jeff Quinn and Oliver was already at a disadvantage before ever stepping on the field in college.
Quinn’s offense was a spread attack and favored the air assault game over ground and pound. However, Oliver busted his hump in the preseason to earn the starting running back spot as a redshirt freshman. Unforuntaely for Quinn, Oliver and the Buffalo Bulls, 2010 was a big-time disappointment. The team finished 2-10 and Oliver only managed 298 yards on the ground even though he led Buffalo in rushing. After the tough year, Oliver approached his coach with a request.
The young coach took Oliver’s words to heart and completely changed his offense to focus on more of a balanced attack. The suggestion paid dividends for coach and player as Oliver ran for 1,395 yards and 13 touchdowns including 365 receiving yards. The season helped Buffalo’s back gain national attention and the tides appeared to be turning entering 2012.
Just as things appeared to be heading in the right direction, Oliver battled injuries throughout his junior season and was only able to play in seven games for the Bulls. He managed 821 yards in his limited time during 2012, but the spotlight was long gone.
In 2013, Oliver showed what he was all about and gave Buffalo a season to remember. He finished with 1,535 yards and 15 touchdowns on route to Buffalo’s first bowl game under Jeff Quinn. The Bulls finished 8-5 including an appearance in the Idaho Potato bowl, and Oliver set his eyes on the NFL.
While he wasn’t drafted in May, I would be hesitant to bet against the undrafted rookie free agent. Early reports have the back as one of the most noticeable players on the field for San Diego thus far. Yes, Oliver is an extreme long shot to make the team, but he has a few things going for him. Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead will be free agents after the 2014 season, and if Oliver can manage to make the roster, or find himself on the practice squad, he will likely be given a chance to win a role in 2015. The 5’8” 203 pound back has the perfect NFL mentor in front of him in Danny Woodhead and he reportedly is modeling his game after the Chargers’ veteran.
I like Oliver and hope he can do enough on special teams to at least make the practice squad this season. He is built in the Ray Rice/Maurice Jones-Drew mold, and if he decides to beef up a little more, could find similar success as the aforementioned players. It’s a long shot for the former Buffalo Bull, but there’s one thing we know: Branden Oliver can overcome adversity.