Brady Oliveira’s first two carries as a professional merely hinted at a skill set that has propelled the rookie running back from a starring role at the University of North Dakota to the CFL.
Entering the Blue Bombers’ pre-season opener with less than six minutes remaining in the second quarter, the 21-year-old Winnipegger took a handoff from first-year quarterback Sean McGuire and rumbled straight up the middle for 15 yards before finally being dragged down by Edmonton defender Brian Walker.
On his next carry, coming on the very next play, the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Oak Park High School grad sidestepped a would-be Edmonton tackler with a nifty move and managed to get the ball back to the original line of scrimmage.
Two carries, 15 yards. Modest numbers, but Oliveira was thrilled nonetheless.
"First carry as a Winnipeg Blue Bomber and I sprung it a little bit," said Oliveira after Winnipeg’s 20-3 victory over Edmonton. "It definitely felt nice. It showed that I can move a little bit and get out."
Oliveira’s powerful running style and elusiveness is a combination the Blue Bombers hope can serve as a useful complement to veteran all-star Andrew Harris. And Oliveira may not need years of seasons seasoning before he’s ready for a substantial role.
He got a thrill out of his special teams duty, too.
"Yeah, I had so much fun out there," said Oliveira. "Running down on special teams, getting in there when my number was called on offence and getting some carries and making the most of it. I think I did that and I showed what I was capable of doing. With the minimal amount of carries, I was able to do something. Just imagine if I had a little bit more."
Oliveira’s former UND teammate, rookie American running back John Santiago, also saw his first action in the opening half, returning a kickoff 30 yards when he touched the football for the first time.
Oliveira and Santiago were affectionately known as Thunder and Lightning when they shared carries in the UND backfield for four years. On Friday night, the speedy Santiago completed the game with four carries for 13 yards while Oliveira added two one-yard runs in the fourth quarter, finishing the night with 17 yards on four carries.
Nine Winnipeg players registered carries but Oliveira was clearly a popular hometown favourite.
One reporter in the post-game media scrum jokingly asked Oliveira if he had a ticket clause in his contract.
"I think I can definitely help on ticket sales this season," said Oliveira. "There’s lots of Brady Oliveira fans out there and we should be expecting some sold-out crowds here this season...
"It was great coming out of the tunnel and seeing all the fans there and knowing there’s a lot of supporters for me in the crowd. It really does mean a lot to me."
NOTEWORTHY: Edmonton’s Shai Ross, who hails from the University of Manitoba, broke loose for a 75-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. Only a tackle by his former Bisons teammate, Dylan Schrot, who drove Ross out of bounds at the Winnipeg 35-yard line, saved a touchdown. Schrot later connected with quarterback Bryan Bennett on a 48-yard pass and run play for the lone touchdown of the game... Rookie long-snapper Zach Greenberg, signed earlier in the week after a four-year career at NCAA Division II Minnesota Crookston, came on in relief of Winnipeg veteran Chad Rempel... Former St. Paul’s High School running back Alex Taylor carried the ball eight times for 26 yards to lead the Edmonton ground game.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 12:29 AM CDT: Adds photo