Looking For Strong Finish in His Last Season

No one on the ASU football team has experienced a more frustrating career than R.J. Oliver. Serious injuries have plagued him for the last three seasons, and the team's arguably best cornerback has never returned to his 2002 form when he was one of the conference's elite at his position. After missing three games this season, the sixth-year senior registered his inaugural tackles in 2005 against USC last weekend. It was a small step, towards what he hopes will be a solid finish to his career.

As a redshirt freshman, the 5-9 177 R.J. Oliver, started all nine games he played in 2001. The following year was by far his most successful one, as he lead the Pac-10 in passes defended (18 pass breakups and four interceptions) and started in all 14 games. His lone interception in 2003 was memorable for all the wrong reasons. While that pick was returned for a 100-yard touchdown, it also severely injured his hamstring. Despite sitting out the next two games, this ailment never healed properly and statistically 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.

Alas in 2005, Camp T brought once again an injury to Oliver, this time to his quadriceps. Consequently, he started this season exactly as he did last year – on the injured list. However, unlike the last campaign he was able to come back and see some game action after missing a few weeks. "I'm feeling good and ready to play," said Oliver. "Hopefully this week I'll get more reps. Right now my injury feels healed. I can do everything, I'm not taking anything off and going hard. I'm not worried about the injury or thinking about it at this point."

Oliver admitted that the beginning of his paying time wasn't smooth, but things did improve later that Saturday afternoon. "The first series I played I felt rusty," he remarked. "But as the game went on I got into more of a rhythm. My adrenalin was going the whole game. But the way I played doesn't matter to how we played as a team. The whole team and myself could have played better. We made a lot of plays in the first half, but we didn't make enough in the second half."

In the second half of the USC game, the Sun Devils' pass defense did perform overall better than the run defense. The cornerback doesn't take solace in that fact, and focuses on the complete defensive goal. "The second half they threw four passes and we tried to tackle them in the air instead of the ground," Oliver stated. "We need to prove that we're a great a defense and a great defense stops the run and contains the pass. This week we have to prove that."

His teammates rib Oliver for the number of years he has been in the program, and hearing cat calls such as ‘grandpa' are hardly foreign to him. Nevertheless, as a grizzled veteran, has he taken upon himself to aid his comrades, especially the inexperienced ones, to put the loss to the Trojans in the rearview mirror? "I've been doing that a little," he said, "but they have been able to put the loss behind them, because we focus on one game at a time. We went over the mistakes in the USC game, and now we're planning for Oregon and what we need to do control the game on our side of the ball."

The Ducks will present a spread offense formation, and that scheme along with the accompanying personnel, will keep the Sun Devils' secondary on its heals come Saturday according to Oliver. "This is probably the best receiving core we'll face," he asserted. "Other teams had just one or two good receivers, but as a group Oregon is the best. These are the games you live for as a corner. You know that they will attack you in the air all the time and this will be a challenge for our secondary."

There are only 6-7 games remaining in R.J. Oliver's maroon and gold tenure. He laughs when reminded that he won't get a seventh year of eligibility. His focus may be one game at a time, but he would like to see a culmination of a career ending on a high note. "I do want to finish the season well and be able to contribute," he said. "I can't do another year (smile)." With lady luck hopefully on his side these days, Oliver may be destined to end his Sun Devil career with a blaze of glory.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories