The Ouachita Baptist Tigers are currently ranked fourth in the nation in the AFCA Coaches’ Poll, boasting an undefeated record through eight games. What’s even more impressive—all eleven of their offensive starters are from Arkansas. In fact, of the 91 players listed on their roster, 64 hail from the Natural State.
Kris Oliver, Ouachita’s senior running back, broke the Great American Conference’s career rushing record during the Tigers 41-0 victory over Southern Nazarene. The interesting thing about Kris “KO” Oliver is he’s not only from Arkansas, he’s a hometown kid, straight out of Arkadelphia, home of the Tigers.
I coached KO during the 2012 and 2013 football seasons. The first thing I remember him saying to me—my first day on the job, barely twenty-three, walking into a locker room full of high school boys—was, “Hey, you look like Peyton Manning.”
He was talking about my hairline, how it had started to recede. That line is classic KO. He has this smile, this way of knowing just what to say, the right way to say, to break the tension. He’s the sort of guy you want in your huddle.
To say Kris’s road to this current, record-breaking season was easy, would be far from the truth. The same energy that caused Kris to be a sparkplug on the field, often landed him in the principal’s office during his high school days, especially early on.
After hundreds of yards of bear crawls and barrel roles, KO eventually matured into a leader for our up-and-coming Badger team. During his junior and senior seasons, he even had to step in and play quarterback for a few games.
One of those games was the opening round of the playoffs during our initial season together. It was the first time the Badgers had made the playoffs in something like ten years. The town was at a fever pitch, even throwing a “block party” the Thursday night before Friday’s game. That’s a story for another time, but I’ll just say it was the biggest shindig I’ve ever seen in a public city square.
Maybe we partied a little too hard, because less than twenty-four hours later, the number-one seed Badgers were losing by three touchdowns to the fourth-seed Mena Bearcats. If I remember correctly, we were picked to win the game by something like 28 points.
But we didn’t.
It was a shocking loss for the boys, the coaches, everybody.
The thing I’ll never forget, though, was what Kris said to me late in the fourth quarter. Not like late enough we could just run a play and the game would be over, but late enough, with the score like it was, that the game was out of reach. The fat lady was definitely singing.
He jogged over to the sideline and said, “What do we do, Coach?”
And for the first time that season, I didn’t know what to tell him. There was no trick play I could call, nothing left up my sleeve. It hurt because Kris had worked his tail off, straightened up in class, took on the new leadership role as our fill-in quarterback—he’d done everything right, but it didn’t matter—we weren’t going to win that game.
Holding back tears, I said the only thing that made any sense: “Just keep playing, Kris. You have to keep going.”
We lost that game. The next season we won the conference, going undefeated until we came up against the Warren Lumberjacks in the quarterfinals and then we lost again.
But Kris didn’t let that stop him.
He kept going, just like I told him, on to OBU where he was named the Hansen Freshman of the Year and eventually broke the GAC career rushing record, all while helping the Tigers collect two conference championships along the way (and hopefully a third in 2018).
Every week half the teams competing across America lose, but those that eventually find true success are the ones like Kris “KO” Oliver; they’re the ones that just keep playing.
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