The nation’s most dominant collegiate defensive lineman resides right here in Houston. The University of Houston Cougars’ Ed Oliver (6-feet-3, 290 pounds), a sophomore defensive tackle, has been a one man wrecking crew again this season.
UH has gained a national reputation for an explosive offense, yet Oliver and his defensive mates have proven defense can be sexy too.
As a high school All-American from Aldine Westfield, Oliver was rated as the No. 1 interior defensive lineman in the country coming out of high school. Many were shocked when he spurned more established programs and opted to attend UH where his brother Marcus was an outstanding offensive lineman. Recruiters’ doubts that he would achieve national attention as a Cougar continue to motivate Oliver.
“It’s just another chip on my shoulder,” Oliver said. “It’s another reason why I go out there and play the way that I do. I was out on the practice field and remembered when I was told I wouldn’t make anything of myself if I played for Houston, and now look at what I’ve accomplished.”
Oliver was first team All-American on seven different teams as a true freshman and led all returning defensive linemen nationally with 23 tackles for loss in 2016. He finished second nationally among all positions in tackles for loss last season while leading all defensive linemen nationally with nine pass breakups.
He was the American Conference Rookie of the Year, the Scout’s Freshman of the Year and the winner of the 2016 Bill Willis Award, presented annually to the nation’s top defensive lineman by the Touchdown Club of Columbus. You get the picture.
Oliver is aware that after only one year in the college game, he has quickly earned the reputation of being the leading defensive lineman. He shrugs off the title and his philosophy is simple.
“What other people say doesn’t excite me,” he said. “What excites me is hitting and tackling people. I just want to go out there and give it everything I have.
“I’m not the type of guy to focus on what awards and recognitions I’ve received,” Oliver continued. “As long as I get to play football when it’s time to play football, I’m content.”
N.D. Kalu, a sports talk show host with a resume that boasts 12 years as an NFL defensive end, has been impressed with what he’s seen of the Cougars talented sophomore.
“What makes Ed Oliver so special is not just his God-given physical attributes, but the passion he puts forth to display them,” said Kalu, a former Houston Texan who played college ball at Rice University. “He makes plays all over field. He’s the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the country.”
To prove that his freshman season was no aberration, Oliver recorded his 24th career tackle for loss on UH’s first defensive play of the game in their season opener with Arizona. He went on to have a typically Ed Oliver game – 11 tackles, a forced fumble and 1.5 TFLs (tackles for loss).
Oliver leads all defensive linemen nationally with an average of 11 tackles per game. For his efforts against Arizona, Oliver was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
On a somber note for Cougar opponents, Oliver feels he’s grown from his freshman season to his sophomore campaign.
“From last year, my knowledge of the game has increased,” he said. “Every year the game gets slower and slower to me, so I’m able to see a lot more during each play. It just comes with the experience.”
While the Houston offense has struggled at times this season, Oliver and the Cougar defense have carried the team to a 4-1 record, 2-0 in conference play. Oliver has high expectations.
“This defense should be better than last year,” he said. “At every level of defense, we’ve gained more experience from last year to this year. I would say this is a veteran [unit], and we should be better this year.
“It doesn’t start with me,” Oliver said. “It starts with the three guys up front. When we do our job, the linebackers are able to do their job, and the defensive backs are able to do their job. We are going to be solid this year.”