UK Football

‘Off-the-charts’ athlete at UK for football. Basketball in Florida showed he belonged.

‘He made some big catches out there.’ Terry Wilson likes freshman receiver

UK quarterback Terry Wilson talked about wide receivers’ consistency and freshman Bryce Oliver following the 2019 Kentucky Blue-White game on Friday.
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UK quarterback Terry Wilson talked about wide receivers’ consistency and freshman Bryce Oliver following the 2019 Kentucky Blue-White game on Friday.

University of Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran learned a lot about Bryce Oliver while watching him play in high school.

Basketball, that is.

Oliver was a member of back-to-back state title teams at Dillard High School in Florida in 2016 and 2017 (UK teammate Jordan Wright was on the 2016 team, too). Entering his senior season, Oliver tore a meniscus and many of the schools recruiting the two-sport star backed off.

Not UK. Gran and Co. saw all they needed to see and never wavered.

“When I was recruiting Jordan, I got to see (Oliver) play and his athleticism was off the charts,” Gran said. “He was dunking the ball and his elbow was over the rim. It just felt like we had seen him before and we knew what he brought to the table.”

Oliver ultimately went with the Wildcats over Central Florida — a Group of Five program that’s had its share of big-time success in recent years — and Louisville — a UK rival that’s fallen from an extraordinary peak in a short amount of time. Gran’s relationship with him during his prep days sealed the deal for the 6-foot-1, 211-pound receiver.

“He sailed past all the other schools with daily texts, you know what I’m saying?” Oliver said. “My senior year I suffered a torn meniscus and he was the only coach to text me and let me know that he still wanted me to join the boat and join what they have evolving around Kentucky. I took that into consideration and I jumped on board with him.”

Oliver, a redshirt freshman, didn’t see the field in 2018 but in April thrust himself into the spotlight with a strong showing in the Blue-White game, reeling in eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Putting a lot of stock in any intrasquad scrimmage — let alone one played five months prior to the season-opener — is perilous, but Oliver showed off big-catch potential time after time against defensive teammates in the spring and has continued to do so in the fall.

“I really didn’t pay it no mind, cause I knew my capabilities when I got back on the field,” Oliver said of his comeback from the meniscus tear. “I knew what I could do. Once I got back into the gist of things, I kept on rolling with it throughout the season.”

He already projected as an integral part of the Wildcats’ receiving mix this season, but the coaches in response to a foot fracture that will sideline junior Isaiah Epps at least six weeks have been giving Oliver first-team reps.

He oozes the type of confidence needed to stand out as the offense attempts to find a reliable playmaker outside of Lynn Bowden.

“When my name is called, make the play. That’s my job as a wide receiver, to catch the ball and make the play,” Oliver said. “ … Obviously, as a whole, we have to make plays because teams are gonna be scheming against Lynn, so it’s our job to open other things up so they won’t have to scheme against just one person. They’ll have to scheme against the whole receiving corps.”

A number of young receivers — among them fellow redshirt freshmen B.J. Alexander and Akeem Hayes — will push for field time, but Oliver is the clear frontrunner among the youngsters so far.

And you don’t even need to see him play football to figure that out.

“Bryce Oliver is a tremendous athlete,” UK wide receivers coach Michael Smith said. “If you watch him on a basketball court, you can tell he can move around.”

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Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.