By Pat Graham, Associated Press
BOULDER — Colorado junior cornerback Isaiah Oliver can run with the best of them. Same goes with high jump, hurdle, pole vault , shot put, long jump and throwing the javelin .
A multidimensional threat on the football field , Oliver also happens to be a rising decathlete in track and field.
His goals one day are straightforward: cover elite receivers in the NFL and contend at the Olympics in the 10-event competition.
Ambitious? Sure. Bottom line: He just likes to stay busy. He couldn’t even imagine picking one sport over the other, because one helps him prepare for the other. It’s always been like that.
“I would never sacrifice football to get ahead in track or sacrifice track to get ahead in football,” said Oliver, whose team plays at No. 15 Washington State on Saturday. “Being able to split time and do both and still be where I’m at now, it’s still pretty good.”
For paving the path he’s on, Oliver credits his father, Muhammad, who was a cornerback at Oregon before embarking on an NFL career that spanned five seasons with five different teams. Muhammad also was a standout decathlete , which consists of the 100 meters, 400, 1,500, 110 hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put, discus, javelin and pole vault spread over two days.
Growing up, his dad had a simple rule for he and his six siblings — play as many other sports as they wanted but track was mandatory.
“I always believed track develops overall athletic ability,” Muhammad explained. “Because when I was a decathlete, I know how much training helped me for football.”
Isaiah Oliver’s best score in the decathlon is 7,394 points, which he accumulated at the Pac-12 championships in May. His father’s top mark is 8,087, which he set at the ’92 NCAA championships when he finished fourth. Combined, that’s 15,481 points and ranks second in the pantheon of American father-son decathletes. That’s according to research by historian and track Hall of Famer Frank Zarnowski , who has the Bastiens — Gary (7,847, 1983) and Steven (8,015, ’17) — currently listed in the top spot with 15,862 combined points.
“It’s all on Isaiah to break it,” said Muhammad, who lives in Arizona and coaches various levels of track and field. “Isaiah has the potential to be one of the best decathletes. The kid is leaps and bounds ahead of where I was.”
On top of that, Isaiah Oliver just so happens to be one of the elite corners in the country. Teams only occasionally look in his vicinity. When QBs do, they typically learn a valuable lesson — he’s quite athletic. Take his interception against Texas State, for instance, when the 6-foot-1 Oliver made a one-handed grab over a receiver and quickly turned on the speed. On that particular interception, high jumping, hurdling and being a sprinter all came in handy.
“You don’t really see many corners (his height) that can run like the wind,” safety Afolabi Laguda recently remarked.
Oliver’s done a little bit of everything for the Buffaloes this season, including some punt returns. On occasion at practice, he’s been known to wander over to try to run routes with the receivers, before they playfully tell him to go back to defense.
“They don’t let me get in any reps,” Oliver cracked.
His teammates are big fans of Oliver. When he competed in a meet last February, the Buffaloes just so happened to venture to the indoor track that day — the weight room is close by — and took in the scene as Oliver broke the heptathlon school record in the 60-meter hurdles.
“They all rushed the track,” Oliver said. “It was cool.”
As a rule of thumb, Oliver doesn’t train for track during the football season. The same goes for track season — except during the window for spring practice when he does both.
“When I finish this season, and go back to track, I’ll be a lot stronger and run faster,” said Oliver, who counts as one of his idols Ashton Eaton, the two-time Olympic decathlete champion and world-record holder (9,045 points). “I’ll be able to throw the shot, discus and javelin even farther.”
As for his long-range plans, that’s easy: play on the next level after his college career, and hopefully with a team that allows him to train for the 2020 Tokyo Games. If forced to choose between the two sports, sorry track, football wins.
It’s been that way since an 11-year-old Oliver wrote a paper about his prospects of playing in the NFL.
“Isaiah was like, ‘I don’t care what they say, I’m willing to make sacrifices and make it. I’m going to be good enough to make it happen,'” his father recounted of the essay. “It was really mature for him to say that. This kid is so special.”