Khalil Mack and Branden Oliver came to UB under Turner Gill in 2009 as underdogs. The undersized Oliver was an afterthought compared to Jeffvon Gill, the big back out of Euclid, Ohio. The unheralded Khalil Mack wasn't thought about at all, especially with the commitment of heralded star linebacker, Darius Willis, who spent his high school career dueling with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in Houston.
Two years later, both Gill and Willis were gone, but not missed. It was clear Oliver and Mack were truly special athletes, but they were also leaders, who we could entrust the task of rebuilding the Bulls football program. The two Florida natives worked out with each other during summers, challenging each other to go faster and to get stronger.
Two more years would pass, in 2013, Mack would set the NCAA record for forced fumbles and tie the NCAA record for tackles for a loss. Oliver would displace James Starks as the best running back in UB history.
After being recruited to play for the 2008 MAC Champion Bulls, the duo transformed a 2-10 team in 2010 into an eight win bowl team in 2013.
As draft season approached, Khalil Mack was a surefire top-10 pick. Branden Oliver was more uncertain. I compared him to Ryan Williams, Donald Brown and Giovani Bernard. All three backs were selected within the first 38 picks of their respective NFL drafts.
In training camp, Mack was the player you couldn't help but fall in love with, a combination of raw power and quiet humility. The same could be said for Oliver In San Diego, who runs with a punishing style that reminds you why you feel in love with the game in the first place.
Prediction: Branden Oliver is going to be the preseason player that @Chargers fans irrationally fall in love with.— Bolts From The Blue (@BFTB_Chargers) August 2, 2014
Week three was big for Oliver as well, BO saw his first NFL action at the site of his last regular season college game, Ralph Wilson Stadium. Against Bowling Green BO ran 18 times for 46 yards and a touchdown, this time, BO only carried 3 times for 11 yards, but he did finally get that win at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Last week, Branden Oliver set the NFL world on fire with a 52-yard run and a 50-yard reception en route to a 23 touch, 182-yard effort with 2 touchdowns. This in only Oliver's third game against one of the league's best defensive units.
This Sunday, Branden Oliver may get his first career start against his former teammate, Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders.
Mack 24 tackles and 3 tackles for loss but is still seeking his first sack and his first turnover forced. This will be a tall task against a Chargers team that has only surrendered 8 sacks in 5 games and has only turned the ball over twice. Oakland is facing adversity, they are 0-4 and have a new coach. The advantage Mack has over other players is, adversity isn't new to him. He isn't a Texas or Alabama guy who has never lost more than a game in a year, and who quits at the sign of adversity. He is a guy who will continue to work hard every day to get better. He is a big reason UB went from 2 wins to 3, from 3 to 4, and then finally the hard work paid off with the leap from 4 to 8 wins.
Oliver has a seemingly easier task, he plays on a team loaded with weapons. However with the wins comes greater pressure not to be the weak link. Oliver was the wink link in Buffalo in 2010, but with hard work, he became the strongest link in the chain in just one year. I don't worry about Oliver letting the Chargers down, he works too hard for that to be a possibility. Oliver will look to help his team by picking on a Raider defense that has allowed 117 rushing yards, 5 yards per carry and a touchdown on average so far this season where they have also surrendered big runs such as Chris Ivory's 71-yard touchdown and Arian Foster's 40-yard run to the 1-yard line.
The two friends used competition during their days at Buffalo to improve, and that improvement took them both from one-FBS scholarship recruits out of Florida to the NFL. I can't wait to see them compete against each other on Sunday, because based on experience, they both are going to put on quite a show.