Oliver spurned offers from Football Bowl Subdivision (Division 1-A) schools Fresno State and Nevada and remained loyal to Sacramento State, a Football Championship Subdivision (1-AA) team.
Then Oliver got a text message at 11 p.m. last Thursday from his head coach, Jeff Haagenson. The message? UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel just got to town and wants to see him. At the 11th hour, Neuheisel pitched the program to him and invited him down to Los Angeles to check out the campus and the Rose Bowl.
On Sunday morning, Neuheisel and Oliver had breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, where the coach offered the 6-foot-8-inch prospect a full scholarship. Oliver committed on the spot.
“I’m still kind of in awe about it,” Oliver said. “UCLA was my No. 1 choice of a college during summer. To hear from them so last minute, it felt like it was meant to be.”
Oliver signed his official letter of intent during a ceremony with friends, family and coaches on Wednesday afternoon. He is the first Division I football player Heritage has produced in its brief history.
Playing left tackle, Oliver made first-team all-Bay Valley Athletic League this season and helped carve holes for a Patriots rushing attack that averaged 332.2 yards per game. Fellow lineman Will Strauss also committed to the U.S. Naval Academy.
“I think his first year is going to be the big one,” Haagenson said. “If he really dedicates himself the first year, the sky’s the limit. He’s just got a great attitude.”
Oliver wasn’t the only BVAL football player to sign a Division I scholarship. Earlier that day, Freedom held a ceremony honoring linemen Darrell Greene and Matt McKeen. Greene, a left tackle, earned a full scholarship to San Diego State. McKeen, a guard, signed his letter of intent to Montana State Northern, an NAIA school.
Several relatives, teammates and members of Greene’s church were on hand for the signing. Freedom Athletic Director Steve Amaro spoke warmly about Greene's exceptional qualities, on and off the football field. In addition to San Diego State, Greene received interest from Fresno State and Washington State.
“I feel like I’m really ready for it,” he said. “(SDSU) felt more like home. The people down there are just like the people up here.”
Greene and McKeen both earned first-team all-BVAL honors his year. They helped the Falcons bounce back from a 1-9 season in 2009 to beat Liberty in the Bell Game and make the North Coast Section playoffs.
“I like the coaches (at MSNU) and the program is good,” McKeen said. “I’ve always dreamed of playing the next level of football.”
At Antioch, cornerback Shamawn Wright became the first player to earn a Division I scholarship since Brent Casteel graduated in 2003 and went to Utah. In an emotional ceremony attended by about 70 teachers, relatives, friends and coaches, Wright signed his letter of intent to UC Davis, which offered him a nearly full scholarship.
Wright thanked the coaches and staff at Antioch who helped him grow through trying times. After Wright bounced around from home to home and shelter to shelter, Panthers assistant coach Wilson Pica invited the student-athlete to live with him. Wright was so moved by Pica’s generosity that he added the coach’s last name to his jersey, playing as Shamawn Pica-Wright.
Wright thanked his closest friends, including Heritage running back Treyvon Hanna, but broke into tears when his prepared remarks got to the subject of his mother, Betty Catherine-Wright.
“She watched me grow up,” Wright said. “She was there when I didn’t have nothing, but she tried her best every single day. She tried anything she could do to put a smile on my face.”
On the field, Wright was a force for Antioch on defense, offense and special teams. He led the team this year in receiving with 303 yards and two touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Wright intercepted three passes and made 26 tackles.
“I think Davis saw that in him, not just being a good athlete, but being a good young man and a good person,” Panthers head coach John Lucido said at the ceremony. “Coaching you for the last three years, we taught you a little something. You taught me about life and what it takes.”