Paul Oliver was a Parade Magazine first-team high school All-American at Harrison High School in 2003 and considered the top overall prep prospect in the state by some analysts. A knee injury that ended his senior season did nothing to dampen his own expectations for his freshman season at Georgia.
"I really did come into Georgia with a big head," he said. "Even though I was coming off ACL surgery, I came in with a big head. I thought I was going to play right away, and then, I think it was the second or third day I was there, they told me they were going to redshirt me. I was like… ‘OK.'"
Oliver didn't handle the news well for a while, Coach Mark Richt said.
"He was very highly touted guy, very talented and then, like everybody else, he ran into a lot of competition," Richt said. "Quite frankly, his work ethic in the classroom and on the field was not what it needed to be to play for us."
Oliver pouted his way through his redshirt season and then began learning his way in 2004. Last year, he blossomed, recording 28 tackles and three interceptions. He made one of the biggest plays of the season, stopping South Carolina's Sidney Rice short of a first down on a critical fourth-down play, and almost made another, chasing down Auburn's Devin Aromashadu and knocking the ball away, only to see the Tigers retain possession.
"Since (his slow start), he's really done a super job of being the guy we need," Richt said.
"He takes a real serious attitude toward practice and competition. He's grown up, and he understands what it takes to be special and he's doing those things now. He will reach his full potential now mainly because of his maturity."
Oliver hopes fans understand he doesn't think he has reached that full potential yet. As it stands, he's viewed as a solid SEC starter. He understands that one of his chief responsibilities this year is to mentor young cornerbacks like Thomas Flowers, Asher Allen, Bryan Evans and Ramarcus Brown, but, along the way, he wants to prove he's still the spectacular talent who was ranked the No. 1 prep defensive back in the country by ESPN.com at Harrison.
"I think that's every player's goal, to be considered among the best," he said. "That's what I'm shooting for, and I really don't see many reasons that wouldn't happen as long as I take care of my business."