R.J. Oliver Ready For Challenge in His Hometown

It isn't all fun and games for the ASU cornerback. Granted, he's happy to be playing in front of family and friends, but there's something else on his mind. In the Holiday Bowl, his opponent will feature the 2002 Jim Thorpe Award winner cornerback Terrance Newman. Oliver is more than ready to try and outperform him. After all, he believes that nothing prepares you better to play this position than the Pac-10.

"Yeah, it's a personal challenge to play against one of the best cornerbacks out there." says the sophomore from Escondido, CA. "I don't mean disrespect, but he doesn't play in a conference like the Pac-10 where they pass the ball more than the Big 12 week in and week out. He's a legitimate player, but playing against him I will try and show that I'm as good if not better than him." Focus hasn't been a problem for Oliver and his teammates this week. It's actually been the perfect balance of fun and preparation for arguably the best team the Sun Devils will face this year. "Practices are going well. I don't feel like we're being all distracted being in San Diego. Coaches told us that whatever we do off the field can't affect what we do on the field. We've been disciplined off the field, because we wanna win on Friday. If we win, it will make this trip even more fun."

Oliver is one of few players on the team that is truly home for the holidays. However, he's more than happy to spread the joy among his teammates that aren't as fortunate this Christmas. "Being in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl feels great. This is the best other than going to the Rose Bowl or playing for the national championship. Growing up here, I'm just showing everybody the sights…I got to spend a little time with my family until now, but tomorrow (Christmas Day) I'm taking 15 players to my grandparents. My grandpa is gonna cook for all of them. I want to make it a nice Christmas for those away from home."

It's hardy a secret that the Wildcats' offensive game plan on Friday will be lopsided towards the run. Nevertheless, ASU's standout corner doesn't think that he won't be challenged against Kansas State. "If don't let them pass on us that's fine, but we know we really have to stop their run game to be successful. They can kinda put you asleep running the ball, and then have a play action pass or a trick play, so I won't be bored. I have to be ready for everything that they throw at me, and help out with the run too."

Oliver finished the regular season as the conference leader in passes defended (17 pass breakups and four interceptions). Despite those numbers, as well as his 43 total tackles, the sophomore isn't quite satisfied with his production this year. "I did well, but I have a lot of work to do. This year I had a dramatic improvement because I was playing with much more confidence, and that's why I'm playing better my sophomore year. The team's chemistry is much better, and we're not playing like individuals. When the person next to you plays well and cares about the team, that helps you play better too." One more aspect of his game that Oliver hopes to develop is his leadership skills. "I think I've stepped up a little as a leader this year with all the young players we have in the backfield. Being a veteran on the team I know I have to be even a bigger leader next year. It just helps having experience and confidence when you want to be a leader on the team. When I was a freshman, the experienced players stepped up and helped me. Now it's my turn to do that with the younger players."

"I'm not worried about next year." He said when asked about his goals for the 2003 season. "I'm not gonna think about that until after the bowl game. But I know as a team we want to win the Pac-10 and the national championship. After playing the way we did this year, we know we're capable of it. For me personally, I'd like to be all Pac-10 and All-American. Just everything possible (smile)." If R.J. Oliver continues his fine play next year, the Holiday Bowl may feature not only the winner of the 2002 Jim Thorpe Award, but maybe also the 2003 one…

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