locker room: Alumni Spotlight

‘Bo’ Knows

The NFL’s Branden Oliver returned to UB to earn his degree—and send kids a message

Branden Oliver on graduation day with UB running backs coach Matt Simon. With them are Simon’s wife Lisa (far right), and stepdaughter Madison Wells-James—“Bo’s biggest fans, win or lose,” says Simon.

By Jonah Bronstein

“That was always a goal of mine, to come back and finish when I was done playing football.”
Branden Oliver

Branden Oliver came back to Western New York in fall 2014, carrying the football for the San Diego Chargers in pursuit of a victory over the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was a proud moment for Oliver, as well as his family, friends and anyone associated with UB athletics. Oliver—or “Bo,” as he is known on campus—returned again at the start of the spring semester, this time carrying his textbooks in pursuit of the final credits needed for his bachelor’s degree in sociology.

It was an equally proud moment when he walked across the graduation stage in May.

“That was always a goal of mine, to come back and finish when I was done playing football,” Oliver says by phone following a Chargers’ training camp practice. Speaking to youth groups in the San Diego area last year motivated Oliver to finish his schooling now. “I didn’t want to waste any more time,” the second-year running back says. “If you get the opportunity to do something great and honor God, you have to do it.” The NFL’s Continuing Education Program paid Oliver’s tuition, and the opportunity to resume training with close friend John Opfer (BA ’99) at his Proformance facility near the North Campus only increased Oliver’s desire to come back.

“He felt like a hypocrite getting in front of kids and telling them to stay in school when he didn’t have a degree himself,” says Opfer, who worked with Oliver six days a week during the semester, then had him over for Sunday dinners. “He wanted to tell kids that he walked the walk.”

Thus, rather than staying in sunny San Diego or even returning to his hometown of Miami during the off-season, Oliver found himself enduring one of the harshest Western New York winters in recent history. Ever the optimist, he turned the experience into inspiration for a new passion project: When his NFL days are done, he says, he wants to focus on building homeless shelters.

“Branden is such a great representative of the university,” says Matt Simon, Oliver’s former position coach (and one of the few assistants retained by new head coach Lance Leipold). “He’s the kind of person that I want my daughters to marry. He is a man of his word.”