Defensive end Blake Oliaro has got game
Blake Oliaro is in a hurry — or, at least you’d think so, given the vast tracts of ground he covers with his brisk, bounding gait. In fact, trying to keep pace with the junior defensive end as he strides across Alcalá Park on a sweltering midsummer’s day proves to be an exercise in frustration, and ultimately, futility. Sensing that his pace might be a touch too quick, Oliaro downshifts a few gears and offers an apology sprinkled with a dash of sarcasm.
“Sorry about that, man. Going a little too fast for you?”
As the reigning Pioneer Football League (PFL) Defensive Player of the Year, you get the sneaking suspicion it’s a sentiment he’s shared with every offensive lineman tasked with keeping Oliaro out of his team’s backfield. “As a defensive end, it’s one of the things you really love to do; disrupt the offense’s timing by getting into their backfield and putting pressure on the quarterback,” he says, then adds with characteristic candor, “If I can’t do that, then what good am I for the team?”
There’s a confidence in Oliaro’s demeanor that’s unmistakable, but it stops well short of the chest-thumping brashness displayed by so many athletes these days. It’s borne of an unwavering belief that he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to, as is evidenced by the lofty goals he sets for himself on the field, and in the classroom.
“As a player and a person, Blake is just solid,” says USD Head Football Coach Ron Caragher. “He’s really a great example of what a student-athlete can be; nobody works harder at maximizing their ability than Blake does, and when you consider how talented he is, that can only mean good things for our football program, and for the university.”
You really can’t blame Oliaro for living life at breakneck speed, especially when considering that, as a mechanical engineering major minoring in chemistry, he has hardly a moment of downtime to spare during the school year, let alone football season. Oh, and then there are the pre-med courses he’s taking with the plan of attending medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. Add in the fact he’s studying to take his Medical College Admission Test in a few weeks, and well … that’s not just a full plate; that’s Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings — and several helpings thereafter.
For the ever-intrepid Oliaro — who maintains a 3.62 grade point average and is a member of the illustrious national engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi — it’s also par for the course. “Last year, I had meetings at 6:30 in the morning, then had to sprint to class, which I was in until noon. Then I had to sprint back to practice, which started at 12:15. Then there were the four-hour organic chemistry labs, and then …” he shakes his head and laughs, well aware that his daily routine might seem like a herculean undertaking to most. “I know it seems like a lot, and it is, but you learn to adjust. I can catch up on sleep later on.”
Recruited out of high school as a safety, it quickly became clear to the USD coaching staff that Oliaro’s impressive physical skills might be better utilized in a different position on the field, and that would require plenty of studying on his part. Oliaro would spend much of the time during his sophomore red-shirt year (a term used to describe a period of time when college athletes don’t participate in their chosen sports in order to lengthen their period of eligibility) learning the nuances of the defensive end position. Surprising to no one, he was a very quick study. “Moving from the secondary to the defensive line is a very difficult transition, but Blake managed the move very successfully. Actually, he didn’t just manage it, he excelled at it,” Caragher says.
The 2011 season proved to be Oliaro’s breakout year, as his rare blend of size, speed and strength left many opposing PFL head coaches admiring his skillset, and admonishing their offensive line coaches. As one of only 20 defensive players nationally listed on the prestigious Buchanan Watch List, Oliaro knows full well that he’s on everyone’s radar this time around, and he’s looking forward to the challenge of exceeding expectations — especially his own.
“Last year, I think I might’ve snuck up on a few people, but I know I’ve got a big target on my back this year. All that does is make me want to work harder and prove that last year wasn’t some kind of fluke.”