He was that one percent of the one percent that Coach Urban Meyer is always talking about, a self-made Gator from Glades Central that wouldn't allow himself to believe for even one second that all these kids with high recruiting rankings and high school All-America attached to their names were better than he was. He knew there was nothing he could do about the recruiting rankings and the high school All-America awards so when he came to Florida to walk on to the football team he concentrated on the one thing he knew he could do.
"I knew there was nobody that could outwork me," said Oliver, now a successful businessman in Miami after an NFL career that landed him two Pro Bowl slots in stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins. "That was always my edge because I could block out all the pain and how tired I was and keep on going. Basically, I brainwashed myself that they couldn't outwork me. I'd look at other guys who were on scholarship and I kept telling myself that I will take you to the point that when you hit the wall and can't go I can still go and look back at you and laugh at you. It was all between the ears. The physical part was easy. It was just a matter of making up my mind and keeping focused."
When he completed his high school career down in Belle Glade, Louis Oliver was 6-0 tall and 185 pounds. He ran a 4.6 40-yard dash. He had a scholarship offer from Holy Cross and a partial scholarship (partials were legal then) at Rice. Holy Cross was in Massachusetts, far away and cold in the winter. Rice was in Houston, again too far away.
He had exceptional grades, however, and he had a partial academic scholarship to the University of Florida, the place he had always wanted to go to school anyway. Coach Charley Pell opened the door for him to walk on at Florida so he decided Gainesville was the place to be.
"I could have walked on at FSU which was far away from Belle Glade or at Miami which was too close," he said. "Florida was right in the middle of the state and it was the place that felt right. It's the place I always wanted to be anyway."
He arrived in Gainesville with a major chip on his shoulder, a chip he was determined that would stay there as long as he played college football. At the morning of the first freshman workouts, he was there with all the other walk-ons, looking across the field at the scholarship freshmen who were being treated like they were kings. That was a major source of irritation.
He started the morning on the fourth string among the walk-ons but by the afternoon session, he had already worked his way up to the first string. That first night, when all the freshmen, scholarship and walk-ons alike, held their team orientation meeting every player was required to stand, tell the group where he was from and anything else he wanted to add.
"I told them I'm Louis Oliver from Glades Central and I play defensive back and won't none of you %*&!@# defensive backs play a down while I'm here," he recalled. "I was so pissed and so overlooked that I didn't get a scholarship. I made up my mind I was going to punish these guys by never letting them get on the playing field. We had guys who were high school All-Americans who couldn't have even started on my high school team."
And so began Louis Oliver's quest, not just to be a starter for the Florida Gators, but to be better than everyone else.
It began in the weight room where he pushed himself unmercifully. Every time he felt tired, he remembered that guy ahead of him with all the awards, press clippings and the scholarship. That was all the motivation he need to push himself to do one more rep and if he could do one, then he could find the strength to do another and another and another.
"I wouldn't allow myself to see failure on my horizon and I couldn't see mediocrity," he said. "Being mediocre is worse than failing."
He also pushed himself in the classroom. Always an exceptional student, he combined intelligence with diligence to continue a pattern of good grades that began back in Belle Glade.
"With my mom and pops, you couldn't play if you didn't make good grades and I always wanted to play," Oliver said. "So academics were simple and just came easy for me even though I did have to work hard. Hard work was nothing, though. I learned that from Mom and Pops.
"So when the teacher would stand in front of the class and say there will be X number of A's in the class and X number of B's and C's, I made up my mind that I was going to be one of those A's. Mediocrity is not in my DNA, period!"
He redshirted that first year and earned a football scholarship in the spring. By then he had gone through a growth spurt and was a strapping 6-2 and 224 cut and carved pounds of muscle.
The increased size and strength translated to increased speed as well. The 4.6 that he ran when he first reported to UF dropped all the way to 4.3. After his junior year, the Green Bay Packers timed him at 4.26 in a workout.
With the added size and speed, he moved to safety where he became the ultimate enforcer in the middle of the field. He wasn't simply out to hit opponents. He was out to crush them and make them feel so much pain that they never again wanted to venture into Louis Oliver's domain again.
"No slants, no look-ins, no crossing patterns … none of that stuff," he said. "That's my space and you're invading my space. Once you step between the hashmarks you're in my space and I'm going to dismember you. If I've got a clean shot at you I'm going to take it and give you everything I have and you're going to remember it next time they tell you to go in the middle of the field."
The bone crushing hits were his trademark as a Gator and during his NFL career, his way of saying welcome to the middle of the field. In the NFL, knocking receivers into next week earned Oliver the respect he was seeking, the respect it takes to be a standout in the league.
"Nobody gives you anything especially up there," he said. "You earn everything and that was the way I wanted it. Nobody gave me anything when I went to Florida. I had to earn everything I got. When I got to the NFL it was the same way only it's at a new level and definitely more intense.
"In the pros, come hell or high water you know that this is going to be a fight from the first hike till they blow the final whistle so it's up to you to prove you belong on every play. It's the guys that play every play that separate themselves from the average players. I'm not going to be Joe Average, not in football, not in any sport I'm playing or anything I'm doing that I'm passionate about."
His football career ended earlier than perhaps it should have, in part because he wouldn't stand by idly if there was an issue that questioned his integrity.
"I could have played longer … hell, I think I could play now," he said. "I'm just not the type of guy that can bite his tongue and let things go. If I'm right, I'm going to speak up about it. If I had the ability to bite my tongue I could have played a lot longer but the way I look at it, this is the way it should have been. I got out when I did and I still have my health. There are a lot of guys that played in the NFL and can't say that."
The NFL career allowed him to do the two things that were most important on his list of things to do. He took care of his parents and he had the financial foundation to build a successful business empire.
"I always wanted to be in a position that I could take care of my mom and pops," he said. "If that's all I did, then it was worth it."
While he has found post-football success in his business ventures, there has been one thing missing in his life until recently and that is an open door to return to the school he loves so much.
"You know, when I was playing at Florida we would play Miami and I'd look over on their sideline and there would be Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Eddie Brown … all kinds of guys that I watched on television when I was growing up," he said. "They were part of that Miami swagger. They just walked into the stadium and didn't need a press pass, sideline pass or nothing like that. Everybody knew who they were and they were in awe of them. They were part of the aura, the Miami mystique I guess you could say. Guys who were playing would look and see guys like that … guys that were once their heroes standing on the sideline during games and walking over to give them all sorts of $#%! if they weren't playing hard and upholding the tradition of The U. They knew they better suck it up because they didn't want to let these guys down.
"I always wondered why it is that the coaches, administration … whoever is in charge of that … didn't invite the players back for Florida games. That's something that just seemed wrong that we didn't do it."
He felt unwelcome back at Florida until Coach Urban Meyer reached out and let him know the door is wide open. Oliver has gladly accepted the invitation to come back to Gainesville and he's planning to be on the sideline for the big games. He's also let Meyer know that he's willing to do one other thing to help him out.
"I really like him," he said. "I think he's going to do great at Florida. This is the first coach that's ever reached out to the old players and told them he wants us back. I told him I want to put on the cleats and suit up and practice with them. I'm 235 now. I work out every day the same way I did when I played and I don't ever take a day off. I never have an offseason. I work out with guys who are playing in the NFL right now and I can go with them step for step even today. I can still play this game and I've got things to show and tell the young guys.
"I'll sign whatever release form they want me to sign if I can just suit up and show them what it takes to play it like I played it. Just tell me when I can come up and do it and I'm ready. That's what it means to me that I'm a Gator. I've always been a Gator."