One Last Comeback

A rare sixth year of eligibility is a privilege that many student-athletes would love to have. However, those who are granted this opportunity are individuals who probably endured more adversity than success in their college career. Cornerback R.J. Oliver told Devils Digest that not living in the past should help make his last season with the Sun Devils a successful one.

The 5-9 177 R.J. Oliver redshirted upon his arrival in Tempe in 2000. As a redshirt freshman he started all nine games he played in 2001. The following year was by far his most successful one, as he led the Pac-10 in passes defended (18 pass breakups and four interceptions) and started all 14 games. His lone interception in 2003 was memorable for all the wrong reasons. While that pick went for a 100-yards return and a touchdown, it also injured his hamstring. Despite missing the next two games, this ailment never healed properly and statically it was his worse year as a Sun Devil.

With a healed hamstring, Oliver was ready to bounce back in 2004 but torn ligaments in his foot, towards the end of Camp Tontozona forced him to the sidelines once again. With his football future unclear, he earned his bachelor's degree. This feat was key in him gaining the extra year of eligibility.

With Oliver back in the fold and practicing with the first team, the obvious question is concerning his health. "I just take it day by day and not think about the injury," he said. "I made it all through the first few practices. I'm just gonna continue to gage it until the first game."

There was an obvious hunger to come back the gridiron, but how did the layoff affect the cornerback's physical and mental perspective? "The mental part isn't a problem," Oliver claimed. "Just getting back there after I injured my foot is the challenge. I went through a long rehab process, and when you're out there practicing it's like doing the rehab all over again."

The fact that Oliver, along with other starter Josh Golden, are coming off serious injuries and no spring practice, along with a depth chart that has very little Pac-10 experience, has created natural concerns over the corner position. Oliver believes that a new scheme brought over with coordinator Bill Miller can actually help improve his group, along with the rest of the defense.

"I think we have experience, and we have some good newcomers," he claimed. "I don't think we'll have a problem. We just need to create opportunities and make plays. This defense allows you to do that. Under Brent Guy we played a lot of man-to-man or bump ‘n run. So most of the time we were on an island. We didn't have too much help and opportunities to make plays. In this new defense, with all the different coverages, we have more opportunities to make plays."

With a sixth-year of eligibility granted, the ribbing and the ‘Grandpa' cat calls are virtually a guarantee. Oliver takes that friendly chatter in stride, and helps use his status to benefit the team as players look up to him. "I do take the leadership seriously," he commented. "I've been on the good teams an the bad teams. I know what it takes to make us a good team."

Good friend Emmanuel Franklin went through his own trails and tribulations, and his career always seemed intertwined with that of Oliver's. Thus, maybe it's not a surprise that Franklin was awarded the sixth-year of eligibility as well. However, what was disappointing and perhaps shocking to some was Franklin's dire academic status that untimely resulted in him not meeting his academic requirements, which led to the end of his college football career. "I was disappointed he wasn't able to pull it off," Oliver remarked. "I wish him the best in everything he does. I really can't look back, because I have to worry about the team and take care of what's going on."

Oliver applies that motto when it comes to possibly spending time thinking about a possible NFL career. "To be in the NFL you and you're team have to do great," he explained. "I was maybe thinking about it (the NFL) more last year, but now it's more about me being 100% by the first game to make this team better."

The cornerback is in contact with Chris McKenzie, s former Sun Devil drafted this past April. Some of the experiences he shared with Oliver were encouraging. "I talk to him all the time," said Oliver. "He's doing well. He said that the conditioning in the NFL is a lot easier than here (laughs). But the game is a lot faster and a lot different. You really have to know your playbook. You just need to know a lot more about the game than you did in college."

Oliver admits that he has no goals specifically in mind for himself, but there's one aspect of his life that he would like to see change. "Obviously staying healthy is #1 (smile)," Really, just going out there and playing well and having fun."

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