The grease board in the meeting room for the University at Buffalo tailbacks has several slogans but one stands out: “The best running backs in America live here.” The running back with the most yards in school history certain does.
Senior tailback Branden Oliver became the school’s career rushing leader on Saturday, breaking James Starks’ five-year-old record in the Bulls’ 32-3 win over Massachusetts at UB Stadium. The 5-foot-8, 208-pound senior from Miami rushed for 216 yards on a school record 43 carries in a game that was played in a continuous downpour.
Oliver, who like Starks received a scholarship offer from just one a FBS school, now has 3,203 yards for his career and counting. Starks, the Niagara Falls native now with the Green Bay Packers, rushed for 3,140 yards in three seasons. He missed his senior year with a shoulder injury.
“When I came in, I looked up to him and he told me I was going to break his single-season rushing yards for the year, he told me I was going to break it my freshman year,” Oliver said. “That was a guy I always looked up to, still do.”
Starks tweeted Oliver shortly after breaking the record, “proud of you bro congrats and keep going.”
“I want to thank God first and foremost,” Oliver said. “Coming in with one scholarship I see that He hasn’t made a mistake. Being young, I thought it was a mistake at first but I have to give all the honor and glory to God.”
Oliver endured a humble beginning at UB when he led the team in rushing as a redshirt freshman in 2010 although he didn’t score a touchdown and averaged just 2.9 yards a carry. He eclipsed the mark on a 15-yard with 2:13 left in the third quarter.
“When it happened, at the moment, I told everybody that’s not the goal we have to get the ‘W’ more than anything,” Oliver said. “That wasn’t the goal coming into the game but it feels great.”
Said UB coach Jeff Quinn: “To break James Starks’ record is very significant in our program because we know what a talented football player James is and what he meant for this program. Certainly I know for Branden and his entire team it’s a great accomplishment.”
It was gratifying for Oliver to break the record after an injury-plagued junior season which limited him to five games. Now he’s looking more like the tailback that ran for a single-season record 1,395 yards as a sophomore in 2011.
“I feel like I’m more mature than I was two years ago at the same time, I’m more composed when I get on the field,” he said. “I know what to expect. More film study and just learning the game.”
Oliver said he wasn’t tired despite nearly having as many runs as the last two games against Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan combined (44).
“I’m a big believer in running the ball, especially in the conditions that we had,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said.
That wasn’t the focus coming into the game but coaches often stay grounded in the rain.
“Sometimes it works out the way it does,” Quinn said. “He felt good and he was in a good rhythm. He hit some hard holes, there were some unbelievable runs and he ran so hard and with such determination.”