As a high school sophomore, Collin Oliver had an insightful talk with one of his coaches about patience.
Oliver, who played the Leo position on Edmond Santa Fe High’s football team, was a little worried about the recruiting process. He hadn’t heard from many colleges during football season, but Chris Rose, his defensive coordinator, didn’t fret. Rose reminded Oliver that his highlight tape clearly illustrated his talent, and people would notice.
He just had to wait until spring.
During the Wolves’ first week of practice, nearly a dozen Division I recruiters arrived to scout prospects. Oklahoma State defensive line coaches Greg Richmond and Joe Bob Clements, spectators on Day 1, were immediately drawn to Oliver – so they asked Rose what would happen if they offered Oliver a scholarship on the spot.
Would it distract him from other goals? Would he lose motivation to compete for the Wolves if he knew he had already secured a Power Five offer so early in his career? Some kids might, but not Oliver.
As a nationally acclaimed freshman who leads the Cowboys with 11.5 sacks for losses totaling 76 yards, Oliver doesn’t let the glitz and glamour of sudden college stardom rattle his concentration. He maintains the driven, diligent approach that initially helped him garner recruiting interest. Rose knew this would happen, so he assured Richmond and Clements of it after the Wolves’ first spring practice in 2019.
“I said, ‘Things won’t change with him,’” Rose said. “...And I said, ‘He’s mature enough to handle it,’ and so they went ahead and offered him that day.”
Rose had advised Oliver to be patient, but because of his abilities to seamlessly transition from Santa Fe’s team to the Cowboys’ bold, dynamic defensive unit, he didn’t have to wait long for his work to be rewarded.
At 19, Oliver is a highly touted edge rusher on a top-10 team preparing to face tradition-rich Notre Dame in a New Year’s Six bowl. He is one of three finalists for the Football Writers Association of America Freshman of the Year Award, joining two players from prominent football schools: Georgia tight end Brock Bowers and Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud. The new Name, Image and Likeness rules allow Oliver to sell custom apparel, so fans can sport “The CEO” hoodies that feature an illustration of him with a vivid orange signature, which is already marked with the distinct loops and lines of a pro’s autograph.
Oliver, who carries himself with what Rose describes as a combination of confidence and humility, didn’t foresee all of this happening so soon.
“For myself? Really, no,” Oliver said. “But for our team, I definitely did. I feel like the camaraderie we had was crazy, especially spring leading up to summer. I feel like we did a great job of combining our differences and just becoming a team, really.”
The distinct traits Oliver brings to the group correlate with his “CEO” moniker. The “CO” part represents his initials, and his dad half-jokingly suggested that the “E” might stand for “edge rusher” – but the term also fits because Oliver is a savvy businessman on the football field.
He doesn’t waste time. He’s serious. He’s methodical: hurry off the edge, hurtle toward a quarterback and stuff him to defend the Cowboys’ end zone.
Marshall and Jewell, Oliver’s parents, saw this during the end of the Bedlam game, when Oliver sacked quarterback Caleb Williams – a fellow standout freshman – on fourth down to seal OSU’s first win against OU since 2014. Marshall noticed an offensive lineman had run into his son and knocked him down, but that couldn’t stop him.
Oliver said he was tired, yet he kept moving, eventually crawling across the turf to reach Williams as Boone Pickens Stadium erupted in celebration.
“That’s one thing about him, he does not give up on anything,” Marshall said. “And it just, to me, showed a never-quit type attitude that he’s always had, to just give his all until he can’t do anything else.”
Perhaps no one is more familiar with Oliver’s persistence than Marshall, a former Southwestern Oklahoma State University football player who coached his son’s Little League team in Oklahoma City. Marshall said he didn’t have to coax Oliver into working on conditioning or running through drills. Oliver showed initiative as an elementary-aged kid.
Marshall also noticed his son’s speed. At 6 years old, Oliver showed glimpses of the fleet-footed edge rusher he would become.
“He was a fast little dude,” Marshall said. “He would scamper. He could just take off. He always had those long legs, so it would never look like he was really flying, but he could really stretch those legs out and go.”
By the time he was a Santa Fe sophomore, Oliver was making thunderous plays similar to those that have amazed Cowboy fans throughout the season, using his skillset in the defensive end/weakside linebacker role that allowed him to go screaming off the edge and sneak up on a quarterback.
Edmond Santa Fe’s system has served as a launchpad for OSU defenders. Like the Cowboys, the Wolves utilize the Leo position. But Rose’s defensive schemes aren’t the only factor that have built the pipeline from Santa Fe to Stillwater.
The Wolves have had talent.
First, Santa Fe linebacker Calvin Bundage bolstered OSU’s defense. Edge rusher Trace Ford followed. When Oliver made one of his trademark plays as a Santa Fe sophomore, Rose sent a video to Richmond, telling him Oliver was next in line.
“Coach, we’ll be there in the spring,” Richmond replied.
Rose also made sure Richmond knew about Oliver’s character, which reflects the values his family has instilled in him. When Marshall talks about his son’s accomplishments, he makes a conscious effort not to overemphasize attention or popularity. The awards, the big plays and the NIL deals make Oliver’s dad proud, but they aren’t his top priorities.
“We’ve hopefully taught him how to keep a cool head, take care of your business,” Marshall said. “...Always let people see your character. Let that be something good that people see in you, even outside of football.”
Oliver might be a defensive wunderkind, but he is also a typical college freshman. Marshall described his son’s personality off the field as “laid-back” and “fun-loving.” Oliver cherishes family time, laughing with his sisters when they have a good-natured argument. In the classroom, he takes an interest in science, and he also enjoys spending time at home and playing video games, a hobby that has been enhanced with the Fiesta Bowl gift of a PlayStation 5.
Like many other students, Oliver is dashing from place to place in the midst of a hectic schedule when he’s on campus.
One weekend, when Rose visited OSU with Santa Fe athletes, he paused in front of Oliver’s locker. It was slightly disheveled, so Rose snapped a photo and sent it to Oliver, razzing him about it in jest.
Oliver, who had to leave it that way because he was rushing around before a road trip, said, “Gotcha, Coach. It will be clean on Monday.”
“That’s just the kind of kid he is,” Rose said. “...He wants to do his ultimate best in every aspect.”
So, naturally, Oliver said he had been nervous while preparing to make his first career start in the Cowboys’ home game against Baylor. He was filling in for an injured Brock Martin, a veteran edge rusher who had proved his toughness through many games, and the Cowboys were counting on Oliver to bring that same tenacity.
He ended the game with a sack that iced the victory.
“It was pretty surreal for me,” Oliver said. “...Coach gave a signal for a play call, and I just went out there and executed, did it to my best ability.”
The surreal journey continues. There is already plenty of chatter about Oliver’s future in the NFL, and he even appeared on an ESPN list as a sleeper pick for the Heisman Trophy next season.
Oliver didn’t talk about any of that Tuesday during his first OSU media availability. He has learned about patience, and he is focused on what he needs to do to topple Notre Dame.
Then he will probably go home and stay up late playing video games, continuing to make the most of the PS5, Marshall said.
As Oliver ascends into the spotlight, he’s the same down-to-earth person he was before this breakout season. He’s the determined kid who impressed Richmond and Clements during his sophomore spring, easing his doubts about recruitment.
Rose still remembers what Oliver had said to him in a text after receiving his offer from OSU. He paraphrased the message.
“Coach, don’t worry about it. Nothing’s going to change. I’m going to keep working hard. I just appreciate being given this opportunity from Oklahoma State.”