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ATHLETE OF THE YEAR - BIG BAD CHAD - Bruin Two-Sport Standout Was Tops For 2013
6-12 RIV AOY2
The hearty grin of Chad Oliver became a staple of Riverbank High athletics during his two years with the school. Oliver, shown here at all-star baseball festivities on June 8, was named the 2013 Riverbank News Athlete of the Year. - photo by IKE DODSON/THE NEWS

The hallways scattered across the sprawling Riverbank High campus don’t sound anything like they used to in 2010.

They sing now, and 2013 Bruin graduate Chad Oliver is the leader of the choir.

Starting with summer league baseball his junior year, bursting to a kaleidoscopic vision during his first varsity football game and culminating with a dazzling encore season, the two-year Bruin and Turlock transfer became the loudest voice on campus.

His sterling exploits on the football and baseball fields played a vital role in an obvious culture change in Bruin athletics.

With the resolve of Riverbank athletes and coaches seriously enhanced by his attitude and performances, Oliver made for a steadfast selection as the 2013 Riverbank News Male Athlete of the Year.

Rewind two years.

As a sophomore at Division I Turlock High, Oliver struggled to find his identity amongst a field of top athletes. He wasn’t the biggest or the fastest, he didn’t pitch the best and the swings of his bat didn’t leave any mustard stains on baseballs. He wasn’t being heard.

Then quickly everything he knew changed. With his father Jim Oliver bound for Riverbank High as the head coach of the varsity football team, Oliver was abruptly enrolled with the Division V school where his pops had built a legacy.

And Chad suddenly found his voice.

In his first taste of action as a Bruin, he smashed a three-RBI double to lift Riverbank’s baseball team to a surprising victory. He enjoyed a 7-5 summer-league romp with the diamondmen, and then made an appearance on the gridiron that will never be forgotten.

With his father nervously pacing the sideline at Waterford in the pair’s first game with the Bruin program, Chad joined then-seniors Alex Reynaga, Raymond Burney and Jose Vigil in a game that changed their lives forever.

Reynaga tied the game with 16 seconds to play, then landed a fourth down touchdown pass to Burney in overtime, which was capped by a Vigil extra point to award the Bruins a 20-19 victory. Bruin players and fans rushed the field in a tear-clad celebration over the win…something not enjoyed on the gridiron in far too long.

Their cheers still echo in Bruin hallways.

“That game was big,” Chad said. “I have never seen or played in a game so exciting, and that was my first one at Riverbank. It just clicked for us at Waterford, because we saw what it took to win.

“That’s probably the biggest memory I have ever had. To see all the kids work so hard for that moment was amazing.”

Chad played both ways as a tight end and linebacker for two years. He was instrumental in the turnaround his father implemented and a force to be reckoned with in the ultra-difficult Trans-Valley League. It was a dramatic change from his quiet days at Turlock.

“I knew Chad had the athletic ability, but Turlock is a hard school to play for because of the caliber of athletes they bring in,” Coach Oliver said. “I knew Chad would be in the mix in Riverbank, but it really surprised me the way his work ethic developed.

“He is really demanding of himself and as a coach, I found he had a lot of heart.”

Chad’s love for Bruin athletics became insatiable. He rallied teammates in a verbal and charismatic fashion, and even applauded soccer and basketball teams as a vocal member of the RB Krazies student cheering section.

“It was a great experience and a great move on my part to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” Chad said. “That always encouraged me to work hard, especially when my dad came in and changed the mentality of the kids.

By his senior year, Chad had found a true home.

His punishing hits left a wake of fallen foes and pads on the gridiron, and he culminated his career with a fantastic year on the baseball diamond. With former ace Noel Sanchez not with the program, Chad stepped into the limelight to share the hill with his fellow football teammate, Antonio Perez.

The opportunity allowed Chad to shine against sharp hitters throughout the season, and did little to distract him from what became the best hitting season of his career. He peppered the opposing diamond with a barrage of singles and extra-base hits. The slugging senior was best in Riverbank’s toughest games and was honored with team Most Valuable Player honor by coach Ismael Mercado.

Chad was recognized for his stellar season with a selection to the 2013 Modesto Sunrise Rotary Baseball Classic all-star game on June 8. He made an appearance at third base and reached base in the late innings to spark a potential rally that never came to fruition.

He was one of 43 players from 22 schools to be acknowledged by the contest at Modesto’s John Thurman Field, and had five former Turlock teammates on the ‘West’ team.

“It was great to see those guys again at the all-star game, because we go way back to when we played against each other as little kids,” Chad said.

Chad has new bonds now though, and his stout camaraderie with Bruin teammates was undeniable.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I got to Riverbank, but everyone just accepted me to the family,” Chad said. “I made friends right off the bat.”

The recent graduate was also selected for participation in the North vs. South All Star Rotary football game on June 28 at Golden Valley High in Merced.

Chad will attend Modesto Junior College this fall and attempt to join either the football or baseball program. He doesn’t expect his relationships with Riverbank teammates to falter.

“I built some amazing bonds with friends who are a big part of my life,” Chad said. “They encouraged me to get better and always made me laugh.

“I am going to stay close with all of these guys.”