Sept. 13, 2003
Editor's Note: This story ran in the Sept. 13 edition of the Mizzou football gameday program.
by Cory Walton
There aren't many instances in the game of football these days when a team's starting tailback is allowed to participate on special teams, let alone volunteers for such duties.
The story of former Mizzou running back Brock Olivo, however, is one of those instances. Olivo, whose number 27 will be retired this afternoon during the Tigers' home opener against Eastern Illinois, was known not only for his prowess on the offensive side of the ball, but also for his diligence to all aspects of the Tigers' special teams unit.
In 1997, his senior year, the Washington, Mo., native was named the first-ever recipient of the Mosi Tatupu Special Teams Player of the Year Award, becoming the first Mizzou football player to ever earn a national honor. Olivo, who recorded nine special teams tackles in addition to his blocking duties on the return teams, harbors a sense of disbelief at being the first Tiger to receive such recognition.
"Whoever was selecting national awards over the years must have been looking at a map that didn't include the state of Missouri. I guess they must have updated it in '97," he says.
While Olivo rose to prominence with his special teams accomplishments in the '97 season, it was also a milestone year for the senior in his role as Mizzou's starting tailback.
By the end of the year, Olivo's name stood at the top of the Tigers' all-time career lists for most rushing yards (3,026), rushing touchdowns (27), and all-purpose yards (3,475).
That season, the Olivo-led Tigers earned a berth in the Holiday Bowl, the team's first post-season appearance since 1983. According to Olivo, who ran for 678 yards and found the end zone 11 times on the year, that achievement is worth more to him than any individual accomplishments.
"The Holiday Bowl experience takes the cake hands down. I'll take that moment with me further than any individual award bestowed upon me because that is what football is all about - TEAM!"
By the end of his illustrious career at Mizzou, Olivo had collected not only the Tatupu award, but three team Offensive Most Valuable Player awards, one team Special Teams MVP award, two honorable mention all-Big Eight selections, and a Big Eight Offensive Freshman of the Year distinction. He also became the first player in school history to receive the Don Faurot Most Inspirational Player Award three times.
"Brock was the engine that pulled the train," says Tigers' wide receivers coach Andy Hill
, the last staff member remaining from Olivo's tenure in Columbia. "He deserved everything he got because he would do anything to help the team win. His greatest attribute was that he was the consummate team player."
To some, the load that Olivo bore to attain such numerous accolades would simply be overwhelming. In the case of Mizzou's all-time leading rusher, that very load and the way he prepared for it became part of his legend.
"I made my legacy off the football field in preparation for game day. Game day was easy for me because of what I put myself through in the offseason. It was a glorified workout for me. Something about wearing those colors made me feel invincible, especially when I could stop and listen to MIZ-ZOU," Olivo says.
One of Olivo's favorite training techniques is known simply as "The Hill" by those associated with Tiger football.
"I happened upon this hill one day at the beginning of the summer of '95. I remember how excited I was to have finally found a hill in Columbia, and I rushed home to tell my roommate, Ron 'Rhino' Janes, about my wonderful discovery. In typical Rhino fashion, he looked at me as if I'd gone mad," he says.
"Sure enough, we were out there mowing and weed-eating it at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. It was so steep that you could stand at the bottom and reach out with your hand and almost touch it."
Running up and down that hill became part of Olivo's training regimen. Once the strength and conditioning staff found out about the hill, according to the former Tiger tailback, they began to subject the rest of the team to its rigors.
"When it got incorporated into our summer workouts, 'Thanks a lot Olivo' was a commonly grunted sarcastic phrase," he laughs.
The intense training that Olivo took part in didn't go unnoticed by the Tigers' coaching staff, Hill remembers.
"We used to have two running sessions a day, and the players were only required to attend one. Brock ran in both of them, every time. I've never had a player equal Brock's commitment and drive," Hill says.
Throughout his career, Olivo relied on that training to give him an edge over his opponents on the field.
"I was not the fastest or the biggest or the strongest," Olivo remembers, "but when I would come face-to-face with anyone at any time, I knew that I would come out on top some way, somehow."
In the end, Olivo did come out on top. After a brief stint in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, the former Tiger tailback graduated from Mizzou in 2001 with degrees in English and communications.
Recently, Olivo spent time in Italy, where he coached football, taught English, visited family and friends and "went on adventures in food that would sometimes last for hours on end."
Now, Olivo is back in the United States, and has made his way back to Columbia to join the likes of Don Faurot, Paul Christman and Kellen Winslow on the Missouri Wall of Fame.
"I honestly have mixed emotions. Obviously, I feel honored and excited about the ceremony. At the same time, I am extremely humbled because of the company I'll be keeping on the wall."
One thing is for certain, when Olivo steps on the field to be honored Saturday, it won't be just another "glorified workout" on an autumn afternoon in Columbia.