Brady Oliveira had trucked up and down the field against his opponents, breaking their spirits and possibly the scoreboard along the way.
Stu Nixon patted Oliveira on the back as he walked to the sideline, the game essentially decided even though the Oak Park Raiders were only at halftime. His star player’s day was done, but the argument was just about to start.
“He would get so angry with me,” said Nixon, who coached Oak Park’s high school football team from 2003 to 2017. He currently boasts four proud alumni in this Saturday’s Division Finals: Oliveira and Nic Demski with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Sean Jamieson of the Montreal Alouettes and of course, Andrew Harris with the Toronto Argonauts.
Nixon figures Oliveira broke every record the school had and that in 80 per cent of those games, he’d only see the field for a half because they’d be up by 45 or 50 points by then.
“He would be so frustrated,” he said. “He didn’t just want to break records. He wanted to crush records. He hated not competing. He’s such a competitor and to pull him off the field, he hated that. And it happened more often than not and it drove him nuts. Just absolutely drove him nuts.
“He was so impatient for success.”
Four years into Oliveira’s CFL career, the edge is slightly off, at least externally. When you’re in conversation with him you’d never think that he was arguing with his coach to stay on the field, or that he’d be in practice with his high school team going full Michael Jordan, demanding the perfection that he was striving for from his teammates.
Today, you Google his name and you see the wholesome, two-sided coin that is his life this year. He’s put up career-highs in rushing yards (1,534), yards from scrimmage (2,016) and total touchdowns (13, with nine rushing and four receiving). He became the 15th player in league history to reach 2,000 yards from scrimmage in a single season, earning West Division Most Outstanding Player and West Division Outstanding Canadian Player honours, as well as a CFL All-Star nod.
The other side of that coin boasts an athlete that volunteers in his hometown of Winnipeg and has used his platform and the help of his partner to rescue over 1,500 dogs in Manitoba, Mexico and Bali. Those efforts made him the Bombers’ Jake Gaudaur Award nominee.
The fire still burns inside of him; it’s just evolved as he’s grown up.
“I feel like I’ve only gotten hungrier,” Oliveira said on Thursday, as the Bombers continued their prep for the BC Lions in Saturday’s Western Final.
“I think because I know the potential that I have within me, I know the sky’s the limit. Even looking at this season, you look at the numbers, right? It’s been pretty spectacular, thanks to my teammates, obviously. Looking back at this I know I can do so much more. The hunger is always going to be in me until I walk away from this game.”
Oliveira says his childhood stoked that fire in him at an early age. Over the years he’s publicly shared the challenges he faced in his youth, but this week opened up to The Canadian Press about the impact his mother, Shani, has had on him and how she’s been a driving force for the goals he’d set for himself.
Addiction issues had his father in and out of his family’s life, leaving Shani the one to support the family. As Oliveira grew up, he would find odd jobs to try and help when his family needed it. Once he found football, he saw a window to better aid his family. At Oak Park, he was laying the foundation to live out his dream. Halves of football, regardless of how dominant they were, made him feel like his work was being slowed.
“Impatient is the right word, for sure.” Oliveira said, looking back on his younger self.
“I wanted to just speed up life. I wanted to be financially free. I knew that the game of football could eventually one day set me up for that. I was just so impatient and just hungry for success. I think what I went through growing up is a big reason why I’m here today and the reason why I play the way I play is continuing to try and be the best player that I can be and run with that that hunger that’s still filled within me.”
After Oliveira spent four years at the University of North Dakota, the Blue Bombers took him 14th overall in the 2019 CFL Draft. Just two games into his pro career, he felt his ankle snap when he was rolled up on while playing on special teams in a game against Edmonton. His season was over, in just the first game that his family and friends were able to see him in action at IG Field. 2020 of course brought the pandemic and a cancelled CFL season. Oliveira used that setback to set himself up for the success he’s having now.
“I want to think that time off just added more hunger, more fuel,” he said. “I didn’t want to go out like that. I knew what I could do. I knew what I was capable of and I knew that I could be something bigger with this organization.”
Over the last two seasons, Oliveira has shown the rest of the league what that defiant high school athlete was striving for. He’s now gone over the 1,000 rushing yard mark in back-to-back seasons and the Bombers have remained a top Grey Cup contender, while transitioning from Harris at running back — which seemed dauntingly difficult a few years ago — to the 26-year-old Oliveira.
When the Bombers selected Oliveira, head coach Mike O’Shea said on Thursday, there wasn’t a vision of a 2,000-plus-yards combined player that’s on their roster now. What general manager Kyle Walters and the Bombers’ staff hoped for was the growth of what they’d seen on film from him through his career to that point.
“We knew that he could be a tough downhill runner,” O’Shea said. “He gets certainly more athletic than just a tough downhill runner with great hands. And if he learns…picks up the protections, you don’t know how he’s necessarily going to learn the protection side of it, which is obviously a major factor in a guy’s development up here.
“You know that he’s smart, believe he’s willing to learn and he’s going to turn into a good pro and those kind of things. I think you can project that.
“Did we believe that he could be a starter in this league? Yeah, absolutely.”
Nixon heads into this weekend full of pride and nerves as he readies to watch his four alumni try to punch their respective tickets to the 110th Grey Cup. When he looks at Oliveira, he sees growth and that incredible amount of self belief paying off.
“I just saw a driven, hard-headed kid in high school,” Nixon said. “What he’s become, I am so proud of and I credit his mom, his mom is a saint, an absolute saint. He just seems to be more at peace with the world.”
There’s peace, that much is evident when you interact with Oliveira. But that competitive edge isn’t going anywhere.
“Even in life after football, I’m going to still be just as motivated to be successful and to be as great as I can in whatever endeavour I do,” he said.