Connect with us

American Athletic Conference

American Stories – Oliver is Riding at Houston

Robert Sellers - 247Sports

The American has always done a solid job promoting its players over the past five years, but Houston’s Ed Oliver needs no introduction.

The 6-3, 290-pound All-America defensive tackle from the outskirts of Houston is arguably the best player in the country and the highest profile NFL prospect the league has ever produced.

He was Houston’s first consensus All-America selection since Andrew Ware won the Heisman Trophy with the Cougars in 1989. He won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman. He was one of two active players to be named to The American’s Fifth Anniversary Team.

He has done all of that in only two years of college.

He was chosen as the top player in the nation for 2018 by Sports Illustrated, ESPN and CBS Sports and has already announced that he will forgo his senior year and declare for the 2019 NFL Draft, where early indications are that he could be the No. 1 pick overall.

“I wanted to keep this real,” Oliver admitted at The American’s annual media day in Newport, Rhode Island. “I didn’t want to answer that question [about the draft] every three seconds. I wanted to stop the speculation before it stopped and make this about our team, not just about me.”

Oliver is coming off a dominant season in which he had 73 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, despite being limited for five games with a knee injury. That came on the heels of a Freshman All-America season when Oliver finished with 65 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks and two forced fumbles.

There may not be defensive tackle in college football history who has been as dominant from Day 1, and has accomplished as much in as short a time as Oliver has. He is most often compared with Los Angeles Rams standout Aaron Donald, a three-time first-team All-Pro, the 2017 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a college consensus All-America in 2013 with Pitt, where he was unquestionably the nation’s top defensive player and was the last defensive tackle before Oliver to win the Outland Trophy.

But Donald began his career as a backup with the Panthers. In Oliver’s freshman year at Houston, he beat out an eventual NFL player for a starting spot and had seven tackles with two sacks against No. 3 Oklahoma in the season-opener. As a true freshman, he showed an uncanny combination of strength (he’s all but unblockable by any one person), speed (he can chase a running back to the sideline 15 yards down the field) and football savvy (he is incredibly quick off the snap and has a sharp understanding of opposing offenses).

Among defensive players, perhaps Charles Woodson of Michigan was comparable in terms of the impact he made out of the chute. Woodson was the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year and a first-team all-conference pick in 1995, beginning a career the culminated in his Heisman Trophy season of 1997.

But for a player to come in as a rookie and dominate in the trenches? That list seems to begin and end with Oliver.

”He’s different,” Houston coach Major Applewhite said. “His level of speed, his twitchiness, vision, hands. I’m been around some great defensive tackles who were high pro choices I was at Texas — Casey Hampton, Shaun Rogers — but Ed is a freak athlete.”

Former Houston linebacker Stephen Taylor went one step farther. “He’s a beast, an alien,” he said.

“He’s a homegrown talent,” Applewhite said. “He’s a testimony that if you make that decision, you can come here and be an all-conference player, you can be an All-American, you can be a national award winner, you can be a first round draft pick — you can do all those things.”

Oliver grew up 20-minute ride from Houston’s on-campus stadium. His mother Dana raised Ed and his older brother Marcus in a quiet north Houston neighborhood with two story brick homes, just a few minutes from her alma mater, Westfield High.

During Hurricane Harvey last fall, the worst thing that happened to his parents’ home was a power outage that went on for two days. Nearby, families had their homes and lives destroyed by surging flood waters and damaging winds.

Oliver and his Houston teammates helped the city rebuild from this natural tragedy, During the storm, they practiced in Austin for a week, then loaded up six 18-wheelers loaned to them by other in-state football programs filled with supplies to help the relief effort and collecting donations.

Oliver has always had a strong bond with the city.

He followed his brother’s footsteps into youth football at age seven but left the team two years early to spend more time with his brother and ride horses on the weekend with his father, Ed Oliver Sr. When Oliver was 10 years old, he and Marcus helped their father reconstruct a barn for a friend. They woke up each day and worked from 7 in the morning until noon, took a break, then returned to work as the temperatures cooled down in the late afternoon. “It was hot and hard,” he said. “But it taught me about hard work.”

The result was a barn to house four horses — Caledonia, Oreo, Coffee and Sugar — that belonged to Oliver, evidence that hard work pays off. “Horses were my first love,” Ed said. “My people in Louisiana had horses and one day my father asked if I wanted one. I still have three. I played football because Marcus played football. But as I kept playing, I found love for it.”

Oliver dominated high school football from the time he was in ninth grade. He was such a disruptive force that his high school coach Corby Meekins put in what he called the “Ed Oliver Rule,” allowing him to go full speed in the first half of scrimmages and drills, then sit out so the offensive could run without any resistance.

Oliver, a top-five prep prospect nationally, was recruited by blue bloods like Alabama, Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. In the end, he decided to sign with Houston, shocking his brother one night over pizza the May before senior year when he decided to verbally commit to UH, shocking the football world.

Oliver wanted to attend school in his backyard. He liked the idea of playing with his brother Marcus, who was a key contributor to the Cougars’ offensive line, and to reunite with his high school coach, who had taken a job on the Cougars’ coaching staff.

When Oliver arrived, the Cougars, who were then coached by Tom Herman, were coming off a 13-1 season that was capped by a Peach Bowl win against ACC power Florida State.

It took all of three days of fall camp for Oliver to go from running with Houston’s backups to becoming an unquestioned starter who was dominant against the first-string offensive line.

“Playing with the 2s, I felt disrespected,” he said. “That just made me want to go out and smash people every day.”

Oliver shined in two of Houston’s biggest games in his freshman year, finishing with four sacks and five tackles for losses in wins over Oklahoma and Louisville, both of which were ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time.

When the season ended, Herman left for Texas and was replaced by Applewhite, the Cougars’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In the first game of his sophomore season, Oliver didn’t miss a beat, devouring Arizona’s offense with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal. “Exactly what I envisioned,” Applewhite said.

Oliver has always been in the spotlight, but the attention he has drawn at the start of this season is on another level. He’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated – the headline declares him ‘Big Boss’ – and has a formal Heisman Trophy campaign launched on his behalf, complete with a bobblehead of Oliver riding Oreo, his favorite Tennessee Walker from his home.

A Heisman Trophy pitch for a defensive tackle? When no one who plays that position has ever won the award? And no defensive player at all, other than Woodson, has claimed it? It certainly sounds ambitious.

But college football has never seen anyone like Ed Oliver.



Featured On

Recent Posts


More in American Athletic Conference