Folsom grad making his mark in college

By: Matt Long/Telegraph Sports Editor
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Not all college football standouts are superstars in high school. Blake Oliaro, 20, had a good senior year as a linebacker on Folsom High’s team that went 9-2 in 2008, registering 84 tackles, four sacks, three fumble recoveries and one interception, but walked on at the University of San Diego as no scholarship was offered. The skinny 6-foot, 5-inch, 195-pound freshman saw playing time as a safety, recording 13 tackles in 10 games, but didn’t particularly care for the position. The team changed defensive coordinators and Oliaro changed positions, moving to defensive end after redshirting his sophomore year to reshape his body. After dedicating himself to the weight room for a year, Oliaro added 40 pounds to his frame and weighed in at 235 pounds at the start of this season. He was originally going to be a third-down pass rusher, utilizing his above-average speed for his size, but when one starting defensive end blew out his knee in the season’s first game, Oliaro became the starter. “Playing as a true freshman was fun, but I wanted to play anywhere but safety,” Oliaro said. “I spent last year in the weight room getting bigger and when our one defensive end went down with a knee injury I stepped in. I got my first sack against UC Davis (Sept. 17) and that’s when I realized I could do this.” Three weeks after San Diego’s 31-3 loss to UC Davis, one of only two on the season for the Toreros, Oliaro had seven solo tackles, four sacks and an interception in a 55-14 win over Valparaiso and was named the Pioneer Football League’s co-Defensive Player of the Week. “That’s when people started recognizing me,” Oliaro said. “I finished the year with eight more sacks and played pretty well.” Oliaro excelled the rest of the year and capped it off with 1 ½ sacks in the season finale against Jacksonville, a 23-14 victory that gave the Toreros a piece of the league title with a 7-1 record. The team finished the season with a 9-2 record overall. Oliaro ended the season with 57 tackles, 19 ½ for losses and 15 sacks and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and the team’s Defensive Most Valuable Player. He also earned a spot on the Associated Press I-AA All-American Second Team. “Blake is a really smart player and the best thing about him is that he takes to coaching,” said Sam Anno, USD’s defensive line coach and former NFL player said. “When you teach him something he tries it and he may fail in it, but he keeps working on it until he gets it. He was singled up most of the time with the other team’s left tackle, usually their better tackle, and he won a lot of one-on-one battles because teams would often double up on or slide protection to Mario Kurn, who played on the other end. For a taller player, Blake plays with great leverage and has always had great speed. It was a knockout year for him.” Oliaro was pleased with his season, his first as a defensive end. “I’m surprised; it’s not often that a sophomore is named the league’s defensive player of the year,” Oliaro said. “It came as a bit of a shock, but I’m thrilled to have won it. That and winning the league championship were the highlights of the season.” Oliaro, who majors in Engineering and Pre-Med with a minor in Chemistry, is also a standout in the classroom, as he was named to the league’s All-Academic Team with a 3.6 grade point average. Oliaro said he some day hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon. Oliaro has two years of eligibility left and the future is bright. He hopes to add more weight as he starts preparing for next season. “Every kid’s dream is to play football for as long as they can,” Oliaro said about the possibility of a future in the sport after college. “If I prepare for that opportunity, I will perform to the best of my abilities and that’s how I’m looking at it.” Anno thinks the future is wide open for Oliaro. “He’s a very smart kid and there’s so much more than football out there for him,” Anno said. “We had two kids that were struggling in calculus and I watched Blake teach them for 45 minutes in the locker room with all the coefficients and cosigns and whatnot written on the board. It was amazing to watch him teach. I’d never seen that before. Maybe they do that in the Ivy League. He’s a great kid, who’s humble and works hard. Football-wise, though, I bet by the time he’s a senior he’ll test out as good as any Division I kid.”