With NFL decision out of way, Oliver focused on grand finale

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Ed Oliver has been on a three-year plan since he first arrived at Houston: Dominate college football for three seasons, and then jump to the NFL.

After two seasons, Oliver is right on schedule, so there was no reason to hide what was obvious to anyone who has ever watched him play.

Oliver announced in the spring that after this, his junior season, he will enter the NFL draft. Most prospects wait until the season is over before making their intentions public. Even ones like, Oliver, who have a chance to be an early first-rounder. Oliver said he is not trying to get ahead of himself. Just the opposite. With that out of the way, all his focus can be on what he needs to do to help the Cougars win an American Athletic Conference championship in 2018.

"If they're talking about something they're going to talk about how I played. The TFLs (tackles for loss) I had this week or my opponent this week," Oliver said before digging into some lobster at the American's annual clambake in Newport. "I didn't want to talk about, 'Are you going to leave or stay?' I feel like y'all deserve that out of me. Y'all deserve honesty out of me. I feel like that's what I gave them."

When Oliver says "y'all" he is talking about his teammates, coaches and the city of Houston. When the Houston native decided to play for the Cougars, it was a coup for then-coach Tom Herman. Oliver was a five-star recruit, the type of player who pretty much always ends up at a Power Five school.

He signed with the Cougars the year after Herman led Houston to a 13-1 record, AAC title and Peach Bowl victory against Florida State. Since joining Houston in 2016, Oliver was an All-American as a freshman and a second-team All-American last year, when a knee injury early in the season curtailed some of his effectiveness.

But Houston has gone 16-9 the past two seasons, with neither a division title nor a bowl victory. The Cougars were picked second by AAC media in the preseason poll released Tuesday at media day.

"We got to get it this year," Oliver said. "That's what I need. I need the conference championship. I need a New Year's Six (bowl). I need both of them before I get up on out of here. If I can get that and I didn't even go in the first round, I'd be fine.

"That'd be better than any amount of money. Winning something as a team is always going to be remembered."

Houston coach Major Applewhite said the other Cougars players understood Oliver's reasoning for getting out in front of the NFL decision.

"I think there may be a few guys that thought about it for seven or eight minutes and thought that's weird," Applewhite said. "And then they threw their phone down and went to class. Knowing him on a day-to-day basis, I think people will be able to look at it and say: 'That makes sense. That's like Ed. That's ahead of the game. Smart. Ahead of all the attention.'"

Oliver is part of what projects to be an outstanding crop of defensive linemen available in next year's draft, assuming Michigan's Rashan Gary and Clemson's Dexter Lawrence, the other five-star recruits in the 2016 signing class, also leave school early after 2018.

Oliver isn't as massive as Lawrence, a 6-foot-4, 340-pound space-eater, or as long as Gary, who checks in at 6-5, 287, and projects as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, Oliver doesn't have prototypical size. But his quickness and power reminds South Florida coach Charlie Strong of some of the defensive linemen he has sent off to the NFL.

"When I look at Ed Oliver I go back to Ellis Johnson," Strong said of the former Florida star who was drafted No. 15 overall by Indianapolis in 1995 and had a 10-year NFL career. Johnson was 6-2 and 288 pounds. "He (Oliver) can take over a game."

Memphis center Drew Keyser has gone head-to-head against Oliver the last two seasons.

"I remember going against him this past year and I'm getting hit as I'm snapping the ball," Keyser said. "It's legal. It's fair. It stinks for me."

With 39.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons, Oliver puts up numbers more common of an end or linebacker. He might be the scariest player in college football.

"I'm not a scary dude," Oliver said. "I don't want people to fear me, but I will make you respect me."


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