Academy Close to Oliver's Heart

Jappy Oliver has made as many moves as a military officer moving up swiftly through the ranks. In his 27 seasons as a college assistant, Oliver has coached at 10 different schools, never really around long enough to get comfortable, with ironically Air Force being the exception.

When the ninth-ranked Irish arrive at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Friday, Oliver will have a lot of hands to shake and hugs to embrace, bumping into old faces he used to see nearly every day for eight years.

Following practice, Wednesday, the Irish defensive line coach was asked if there is a whole bunch of people waiting to see him come back.

"I don't know about all that," Oliver said with a laugh. "I know everybody there from the equipment people on down, just got a lot of respect for the program, the man who runs it and the whole group. It'll be a different feeling.

"Eight years, it was like home to me, more so than any place I've ever been. I had a great experience there, great guys, just a great experience."

While Oliver has uprooted and moved a couple more times since leaving Colorado Springs, family remained near the Air Force Academy.

"It feels a little different going there than it does going to Purdue, maybe because I did spend a lot of time there," Oliver said. "My family is there. My daughter is there, so it's going to be fun."

Oliver coached the defensive line for the Falcons from 1995 to 2002, before accepting an offer to join Lou Holtz's staff in the same capacity at South Carolina, his last stop before coming to Notre Dame.

While Oliver was at Air Force, the Falcons finished a combined 65-33, with a final top-25 ranking twice, and two bowl wins. Yet the biggest moment came when a mediocre Air Force team upset an eighth-ranked Irish squad at Notre Dame Stadium in 1996, Holtz's last season in South Bend.

"When we came in, they had a reception for us in the basketball arena," Oliver remembered. "And that was the first time that ever happened. They said guys we have to stop by the basketball arena, wassup, it was almost like a pep rally. It was great and that was late, midnight, one, two o'clock in the morning. It was awesome."

There shouldn't be any receptions in the basketball arena following Saturday's game.

The Falcons (4-4) come in with the nation's third-ranked rushing attack (266.88 yards per game), using a flexbone formation that confuses defenses. All the deception makes it hard to keep up with who the ball carrier is. On top of that, quarterback Shaun Carney does a nice job of running the option plays.

The Irish (8-1) got a feel for what they'll be facing two weeks ago in a 38-14 victory over Navy. Count it as just a feel because Air Force does a lot more moving around and more deceiving than the Midshipmen did.

Offensive coordinator Chuck Peterson is in his 17th season, so being around him, Oliver knows the guy's tendencies.

"I just tell my guys to watch for the traps," Oliver said. "I'd like to think I have an idea of what they're doing. It's not an offense where you can just tee off and come off the ball and attack. If you do, you're going to end up on the ground. I think my guys understand that. They got a taste of it with Navy, and Air Force isn't that much different. They do a few different things but not much.

"If you compare the two, Navy and Air Force, Chuck is the offensive coordinator and he does a lot more things with deception. You are going to see a lot more draws, a lot more counters, where you didn't see as much of that with Navy. But the basic core is the same."

One of the old faces Oliver will certainly bump into, one of the oldest faces around the Academy, Fisher DeBerry. In 22 seasons, the Falcons' head coach has a career record of 165-101-1.

"It was an outstanding experience," Oliver said of working for DeBerry. "A strong Christian man, a guy that I can go in and talk to whether it's on-the-field related problems, or off-the-field related problems. We did a lot of things together as a staff, he includes the family. Anytime anyone was sick in my family, he sent them cards, flowers. Just a great guy." Top Stories