UPPER MARLBORO – Despite his size, John Oliver demands your attention.
On the field, the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. running back bounces through open lanes while fighting off would-be tacklers with ease. Off the field, Oliver admits that he has a mouth, ready to say how he feels at all times.
After being named one of the team captains by Head Coach DaLawn Parrish during the preseason, Oliver’s mouth became the ultimate motivational tool. Instead of mouthing at his opponent, Oliver is now seen talking strategy with his teammates and giving high-fives to his defense.
“As a little guy having a big guy voice, becoming a captain played a huge role for me,” Oliver said. “It’s a big role, but I always have to say something or give my opinion. It was a big step for me, but my voice has to be heard. I always had to hear what my teammates had to say and be there for them.”
The senior quietly strolled for 130 rushing yards and four touchdowns, leading Wise to its third straight 4A Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state championship game, and ending Howard’s season with a 42-7 victory on Nov. 24.
Oliver, together with senior David Medley, torched the field, running around Howard’s defense with ease and accumulating 176 of the Pumas’ 204 rushing yards. After quarterback Quinton Williams threw the game’s opening touchdown to wide receiver AJ Lytton, the ground game took over.
On Wise’s first offensive play following a Howard touchdown in the first quarter, Oliver broke free from two tackles and sprinted 57 yards for a score. The senior followed up by scoring three more times consecutively before being sat down. Instead of pouting over the decision, the senior quickly told Medley to prepare to handle more of the load late in the third quarter.
“People don’t understand that (Oliver) is a captain and a team player,” Parrish said. “You can look at stats and all that, but he doesn’t care about that. He is about the team.”
Meanwhile, the Puma defense kept the Lions (12-1) at bay, limiting senior quarterback Robby Porter to just 66 passing yards. The Pumas’ game plan focused on out-muscling their Ellicott City visitors while covering all the possible running lanes for running back Devin Dawkins, Parrish said.
With the clock winding down in the third quarter, Porter looked to make a critical pass for a touchdown to get Howard back in the game. However, Wise's Marquette Harris crushed the quarterback and striped the ball before completing his sack. Linebacker Christopher Rhodes picked up the loose ball and ran it back 92 yards for his first career touchdown, solidifying Wise’s place in the state title game.
“After we hit them a couple of times, we knew they were going to fold,” Rhodes said. “It was all about making them lose their mind and consciousness, letting them know who they came to play with.”
The postgame team huddle was filled with reminders to stay healthy and to change focus onto the title game versus Quince Orchard at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Dec. 1. The battle to make it the finals three years in a row is a grand accomplishment Wise achieved despite rebuilding chemistry with new players on the team.
Parrish is excited, but anxious for the challenge that awaits his team.
“I’m just proud,” Parrish said. “It’s emotional and overwhelming thinking about it at times, but we have one more game to go. You can’t even enjoy each game because everyone looks forward to the next one to see what we are going to do. With that, I just cannot wait to get it over with.”