Leading the Charge: Graduate transfer helming the secondary in first season at Mizzou

After transferring from the University of Oregon, Khalil Oliver is taking on big roles on and off the field.
Graduate transfer and starting safety Khalil Oliver speaks with members of the media after a football practice on August 28, 2018.

“It’s with an emphasis on epidemiology, so the study of diseases kind of interests me … a lot of people make [graduating in three and a half years] out to seem like it’s super difficult. If you stay on top of everything and you get it done, you’ve got to make sacrifices like anybody, but it’s just how much effort you put into it.”

This wasn’t spoken by someone in a lab coat, or even a determined, singular-focused Health Sciences major. It was spoken by Khalil Oliver, a recent graduate transfer from the University of Oregon and now Mizzou’s starting free safety. The redshirt junior’s intellect off the field isn’t the only thing he’s brought to Columbia.

“He’s just always in the right spot, right time,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said on why he recruited Oliver to Mizzou. “He was a willing tackler and you could tell he was communicating on film and I think that’s what we needed.”

The film room is where Oliver’s focus and intelligence really stands out. He injured his ankle during his final season at Oregon, so he used the time he spent off the field studying up. He now takes his time in the film room as seriously as his time on the practice and playing fields.

“The fact that he takes notes and asks questions,” Walters said, “It forces everyone to understand the why’s.”

Walters also lauded Oliver’s leadership, saying he’s been able to be, “vocal with guys, and hold guys accountable and encourage guys to give a little extra.”

“Our guys have embraced him on being a transfer,” added coach Barry Odom, “and as a guy who has worked his way into a starting role right now.”

Teammate and fellow defensive back Adam Sparks also chimed in on Oliver at Tuesday’s practice, emphasizing that vocal aspect of Oliver’s leadership.

“He’s real smart,” Sparks said. “He’s a cool guy, so you can relate to him a little bit, but he’s definitely smart, he’s going to talk to you before the play. He’s reading the offense before it even breaks down, so it’s like, ‘Okay, we already know what play they’re running’ because he’s talking to us.”

That leadership is especially critical given the lack of experience among the defensive backs. The only senior defensive back listed on the depth chart is strong safety Cam Hilton.

Oliver didn’t arrive on campus until June, giving him just a few months to learn everything he could about Mizzou’s defensive scheme, but he was up to the task.

“The biggest thing was just learning their terminology, how they distinguish their coverages and stuff like that,” he said. “It wasn’t really learning how to play defense it was more like, ‘What do they call cover three? What do they call cover six?’ and stuff like that.”

The Tigers’ defense often struggled last year. It opened the season by giving up 43 points to Missouri State and opponents averaged 31 points against them throughout the season, but Oliver isn’t worried about that. He’s confident that this defense has not only put that behind them, but improved as a unit.

“I had heard stories about what happened at the beginning of last year, so I was kind of curious to see exactly what was gonna happen as soon as I came in,” he said. “But this defense is ready to go. I don’t see any flashes of what was going on at the beginning of last year. I see a team and a defense that has tremendously stepped it up.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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