The amount of time it takes to be successful at a given talent can become heart-wrenching. Years of blood, sweat and tears are poured into the particular hobby in order for that perception to become reality. For senior wide receiver Josh Oliver, this is his life story.
Oliver began playing football at 4 years old. He was inspired by his older brothers, Lorenzo Oliver and Tarick Taylor, who both played football in high school, and wanted to follow in their footsteps. They were his role models as he dreamed about one day playing with the pigskin. Fast forward to high school, Oliver played quarterback at Poughkeepsie High School in Poughkeepsie, New York.
After earning all-state first recognition and being recruited by Empire 8 conference teams such as Utica College, Alfred University and St. John Fisher College, the quarterback ultimately chose Ithaca College, knowing that he would have to change his role and fit into the offense as a wide receiver. But it was a position he would not fit into right away for the Bombers’ squad.
As a freshman, Oliver became a punt and kickoff-return specialist for the Bombers’ varsity squad. However, it was not until his sophomore year that the then-20-year-old became a legitimate threat to opposing teams.
Returning alongside former defensive back Sam Carney ’15, who was the Empire 8 conference leader in punt and kickoff returns, Oliver put up some good statistics of his own. He had 17 kickoff returns for 403 yards, averaging over 23 yards per return.
He also took a punt return to the house against Buffalo State University, which earned Oliver Special Teams Player of the Week in the Empire 8 conference.
As a junior, Oliver joined the offense and was utilized more for his explosiveness instead of his on-field awareness. Oliver earned two all-conference awards after putting up over 1,000 total purpose yards. During a win at SUNY Brockport on Nov. 1, 2014, Oliver rushed for 166 yards on 28 carries, including a career-high 48-yard run.
He said it has been an easy adjustment to play wide receiver and to be the main returner.
“It’s not hard at all,” Oliver said. “You just have to enjoy it when you are playing this. You can’t think of it as a job. … I love playing receiver, and I love returning because it comes easy to me.”
Bombers head coach Mike Welch said Oliver has improved in his years on the team.
“I think it’s getting used to the system,” Welch said. “It just comes with experience that players get with a certain comfort level. … We’re really aware that his real strength is when he has the ball in his hands and what he does after.”
When the 2015 campaign began, Oliver was critical to the Bombers’ offense if they were going to have much success. With the early 4–2 record to begin the season, Oliver has lived up to expectations and has become an immense part of the Bombers’ game.
So far in 2015, Oliver has picked apart the opposing defenses as he leads the league and is getting national recognition for being among one of the top return specialists in the country. The 22-year-old has complied 183 yards on 20 punt returns, 160 yards on eight kick returns as well as 394 yards on 33 receptions.
In the preseason, Oliver was named to the USA College Football D-III All-American Second Team as a return specialist. In addition, through the first three games of 2015, Oliver was in the top 10 in the country in return yards, and currently sits atop of the Empire 8 conference with just four games to go in the season.
In doing so, offensive coordinator Ryan Heasley said Oliver has become a threat, causing opposing teams to rethink their game strategies.
“He is a key ingredient for everything that we do,” Heasley said. “Just as importantly, Josh is just an extremely intelligent football player. We’re able to do some things with him that we might not be able to do with other people because of that.”
However, Oliver said he was unaware of the national recognition that has been around him because as a team they do not pay attention to statistics.
Prior to Oliver’s presence on campus, the college was not particularly known for its special teams. However, Oliver has led the Bombers to being among the team leaders in special teams not only in the Empire 8, but in all of Division III football.
Oliver’s growth has given him opportunities that he may never have thought of, like practicing with the Syracuse University team. Oliver and junior quarterback Wolfgang Shafer met up for some offseason workouts in the Central New York area. Shafer’s father, Scott Shafer, the head coach of the Syracuse University football team, arranged drills against some of the Syracuse football team players.
Oliver said he and Shafer had instant chemistry on the football field.
“We all have that connection — the receivers and the quarterback — we have that good connection,” Oliver said. “Wolf and I are always on the same page, and if we see something, then we’ll talk about it.”
Shafer said he believes Oliver has brought out the best in the first-year quarterback. Without the 5–foot–5-inch and 160-pound wide receiver, he said he doesn’t know whether he would have the success that he has now.
“He’ll tell you how he feels about things, and he’s always wanting to get the extra work and be the best that he can be,” Shafer said. “As a player, he’s the type of kid that if he had a few more inches on him, he’d be playing in front of 50,000 fans on Saturdays at the Division I level.”
Welch said Oliver is seen as a playmaker by many of his coaches and teammates, and if the ball is in his hands, something good is going to happen.
“He brings a very exciting element into our punt and kickoff returns,” Welch said. “As a receiver, he’s an all-purpose player. He’s been a big part of our offensive production, particularly over the last couple of years — this year especially.”
Though he is unaware of his stats, Oliver said he does have some personal goals for the remainder of the season.
“I would like to lead the team in touchdowns if possible,” Oliver said. “I would like to lead the league in return yards and touchdowns, as well.”