DALLAS (FWAA) Oklahoma State defensive end Collin Oliver was named the third annual Most Inspirational Freshman for 2021 by the Football Writers Association of America and Chris Doering Mortgage on Monday night.
Oliver, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder from Oklahoma City, played considerably bigger than his frame and made giant contributions for a defense that led the nation with 4.0 sacks per game. Oliver's 11.5 sacks led FBS Power 5 conference freshmen, and only Coastal Carolina freshman Josaiah Stewart (12.5) had more.
The unanimous Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year was somewhat under the radar when he signed with the Cowboys in 2020, rated a three-star linebacker by the 247 Composite. Oliver quickly changed the narrative upon his arrival in Stillwater, so much that Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy acknowledged his potential days before his debut against Missouri State.
"Collin's going to play," Gundy told the Oklahoman. "How much? It's based on a lot of different things, the packages we use. But I feel like he's going to be in the game playing."
Senior defensive end Brock Martin was also quick to endorse Oliver at the start of the season.
"He came in and he worked his tail off," Martin told The O'Colly. "He never complained about anything. He did everything he was supposed to, and then he just went on to fall camp and he was very coachable."
Former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles revealed Oliver grabbed the staff's attention by graduating high school a semester early so he could begin spring practice in Stillwater.
"We noticed Collin when he was with us and he should've been at his senior prom," Knowles told The Oklahoman. "He's a guy that just jumps right off the screen when you're watching video. The quickness, the natural skills of being a great athlete. He's got some things you can't coach."
Oliver garnered eight tackles and 0.5 sacks in his first four games in the defensive line rotation before making his first career start against eventual Big 12 champ Baylor. Oliver seized the opportunity, recording 2 sacks, including a game-sealer in the 24-14 win over the then-No. 21 Bears. There were more sacks ahead for Oliver, who despite his smaller size continued to provide stellar play upfront with seven sacks over the next seven games.
Oliver's most impactful play was arguably in the annual Bedlam rivalry game with Oklahoma. The Sooners were threatening to score the winning touchdown with 14 seconds to go when former Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams dropped back on a fourth-and-10 from the Cowboy 24. Oliver, rushing Williams from his blindside, was forced to the ground on the play. Down, but not out, Williams army-crawled to Williams' ankles and dragged him down as the Cowboys beat Oklahoma for the first time since 2014.
Oliver recorded two sacks in the ensuing Big 12 Championship Game against Baylor before the Cowboys' offense came up inches short at the goal line, losing the heartbreaker, 21-16. Oklahoma State bounced back to beat Notre Dame in a thrilling, 37-35 comeback victory in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
The win marked the program's first New Year's Six Bowl win since 2012 and capped the Cowboys' 12-2 season.
Previous winners of the FWAA's Freshman Most Inspirational Award are Grayson McCall (Coastal Carolina, 2020), Kedon Slovis (USC, 2019) and Adrian Martinez (Nebraska, 2018).
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Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.