Feel­ing like home

Texas na­tive Oli­vas com­fort­able within Leop­ards pro­gram

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Paul Rein­hard Re­tired sports colum­nist Paul Rein­hard is a free­lance writer for The Morn­ing Call.

Marco Oli­vas made a rou­tine visit to his Twit­ter ac­count one day last year and dis­cov­ered he had a new “fol­lower:” Rich Yah­ner, Lineback­ers Coach — Lafayette Col­lege.

“I thought, what is this place?” Oli­vas said Tues­day, smil­ing. “Be­ing from Texas, I had no idea.”

So, he went to Google and Wikipedia to re­search this strange col­lege that was sud­denly show­ing at least some in­ter­est in him as a football player.

“The first thing I saw was the Lafayette-Le­high ri­valry, the long­est [in terms of games played] in col­lege football,” Oli­vas said. “I thought, hmm, that’s in­ter­est­ing.”

An of­fi­cial visit on a cold Jan­uary week­end “just felt right … like I should be here,” he said. “The his­tory … an in­sane ed­u­ca­tion … it was a great op­por­tu­nity and I had to hop on.”

Fast-for­ward al­most a year later. Oli­vas, a 6-foot-2, 220pound fresh­man line­backer from Fos­sil Ridge High in Fort Worth, Texas, is named rookie of the week in the Pa­triot League for recording 17 tack­les — 13 of them so­los — after he was in­serted into the lineup when lead­ing tack­ler Ma­jor Jor­dan was in­jured in the sec­ond quar­ter of a game against Penn.

That ef­fort came one week after Oli­vas, as a fill-in for in­jured line­backer-de­fen­sive end Keith Earle, as­sisted on 12 tack­les against Al­bany.

Oli­vas is one of an ex­ten­sive list of young play­ers who have seen more-than-ex­pected play­ing time as Lafayette has faced nu­mer­ous in­juries this sea­son. The de­pleted Leop­ards have lost all five games in 2019 and eight in a row go­ing back into the fi­nal month of 2018.

Now coach John Gar­rett’s team is com­ing off a bye week in which he said the Leop­ards had two ob­jec­tives: “First, win the next game, and next, win the Pa­triot League cham­pi­onship. Both things are right out there in front of us. The bye week mes­sage was to pre­pare and im­prove,” Gar­rett said Tues­day dur­ing the weekly me­dia lun­cheon.

Prince­ton, which hap­pens to be Gar­rett’s alma mater and has as its de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Steve Ver­bit, who was on the Tigers staff when Gar­rett was play­ing there in the 1980s (he’s now in his 35th sea­son), is 3-0, av­er­ag­ing 42 points a game on of­fense and al­low­ing an av­er­age of 13.3 on de­fense. Gar­rett also faced Prince­ton and head coach Bob Su­race in 2017, when the Tigers won 38-17.

Lafayette is 2-33-2 in games played on Prince­ton’s home field, so the visit to Palmer Sta­dium at 7 p.m. Fri­day (ESPNU) doesn’t figure to be a happy one — ex­cept, per­haps, for Gar­rett’s mem­o­ries. But Gar­rett as­sured a ques­tioner Tues­day that the thought of pro­tect­ing play­ers for the league sea­son “has noth­ing to do with it.

“We have had some in­juries, so the bye week was good for those guys to heal,” he said. “But more im­por­tantly, it’s to get rest for the play­ers who have had to play a ton be­cause of those in­juries and also a time to pre­pare your play­ers who don’t play a lot in case they have to play. One ob­jec­tive of the bye weeks was to prep for Prince­ton but also to get enough rest so can be fresh for sec­ond half of sea­son.”

Gar­rett gave no in­di­ca­tion of any player or play­ers who might be in the lineup this week, and the weekly game notes in­cluded no depth chart. Lafayette fol­low­ers should be pre­pared for that by now, but in this case, Prince­ton also sup­plied no two-deep from its end.

Oli­vas, how­ever, is ready to do his thing.

When his num­ber was called against Penn, Oli­vas said, “I was a lit­tle ner­vous at first,” go­ing into a po­si­tion with which he was not to­tally com­fort­able. “But then you re­al­ize you’re just play­ing football. You have to fly to the ball, get your fun­da­men­tals down and rely on your tech­nique.”

He has played in ev­ery game and has a to­tal of 36 tack­les, sec­ond only to Jor­dan’s 39.

Oli­vas had 17 tack­les in one high school game dur­ing his ju­nior year, when his team went 10-0 to win a district ti­tle. He also led the district in tack­les his se­nior sea­son, al­though Fos­sil Ridge was only 6-5. He said he was ac­tively re­cruited by Dart­mouth of the Ivy League, the Air Force Academy and Davidson Col­lege. He plans to ma­jor in civil and en­vi­ron­men­tal engi­neer­ing.

His mother, Sylvia, pur­chased a sub­scrip­tion to watch streams of some Lafayette games and watches oth­ers on the Lafayette Sports Net­work feeds on goleop­ards.com.

His dad, Rick, made the trip up to Eas­ton for the Penn game. He couldn’t have made a bet­ter choice.

If Gar­rett will be some­what con­flicted coach­ing against his alma mater, the same can be said for Marvin Cle­ci­dor, who is co-de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at Prince­ton. A 2009 Lafayette grad, Cle­ci­dor played on Pa­triot League cham­pi­onship teams in 2005 and 2006.

COUR­TESY OF LAFAYETTE COL­LEGE

Lafayette fresh­man line­backer Marco Oli­vas was named Pa­triot League Rookie of the Week after recording 17 tack­les — 13 of them so­los — against Penn on Sept. 28.

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