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From five-star recruit to fabulous freshman, Houston's Ed Oliver making presence felt

HOUSTON -- More than a year before Ed Oliver invaded Oklahoma's backfield, the person who knows him better than anyone on the University of Houston campus does -- his older brother, Cougars offensive tackle Marcus Oliver -- was asked for a scouting report.

At the time, the younger Oliver was a five-star recruit who was committed to Houston, and many months remained until he could sign a national letter of intent, let alone hit the field for the Cougars. The elder Oliver didn't hesitate to describe his sibling as "a freak."

"I'm not saying that because he's my brother," Marcus Oliver said 14 months before Ed Oliver helped Houston upset Oklahoma 33-23. "But if you ask anybody that he went up against, they'll tell you that. The only way you're going to stop him is if he stops himself. You can get in front of him, you can do all that, but he's going to figure out a way to disrupt your play."

The Sooners found out firsthand.

Ed Oliver, a defensive tackle, has already emerged as one of the country's top freshmen. Though it has only been two games, Oliver -- the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2016 ESPN 300 -- is already living up to the hype that accompanied his recruitment.

"Oh man, his upside is off the charts," Houston coach Tom Herman said after the Cougars beat Oklahoma.

Oliver started and led the veteran Houston defensive line with seven tackles as well as a game-high two sacks. In the Cougars' Week 2 win over Lamar, Oliver recorded 2.5 tackles for loss in only "16 or 17 snaps" of action, Herman said.

Heading into No. 6 Houston's visit to Cincinnati (2-0) on Thursday night (7:30 ET, ESPN), he leads the American Athletic Conference in tackles for loss (4.5).

"From the first day we put pads on, you could see his explosiveness," Houston defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. "The thing that he's really good at is searching up the ball ... I've seen talented young guys, but I haven't seen a talented guy that could track the football [that well as a freshman] and that makes him so much of a playmaker."

For some highly ranked recruits, the adjustment to the college game can be difficult. After years of coaches building up their egos in the recruiting process, training camp can be a rude awakening. Not so for Oliver.

"Sometimes, you're a highly rated kid coming out of high school, you're going into a place and think you're entitled to some things," Orlando said. "He never did that."

Defensive line coach Oscar Giles said Houston's veteran defensive linemen, particularly seniors Cameron Malveaux, B.J. Singleton and sophomore Jerard Carter, made it a point to be welcoming to Oliver once he arrived.

"Those guys grabbed him and said 'Listen, you're part of our brotherhood,' and the culture in our room has accepted him and he has accepted the culture," Giles said.

Giles describes Oliver as a humble, quick-learning perfectionist who aims to not make the same mistake twice. The guys who have to face him in practice describe him in simpler terms.

"He's a beast," senior right guard Mac Long said.

Asked to name Oliver's best physical trait, sophomore center Will Noble -- a freshman All-American in 2015 -- said, "Do I have to pick just one?"

"I would say his explosiveness," Noble said. "He jumps off the ball. That's probably his best trait, but he's also super-fast and super-strong."

Oliver isn't the biggest defensive tackle, standing roughly 6-foot-1 and 280 pounds. What he lacks in height he uses to his advantage, Noble says, by getting leverage under opposing offensive linemen. Herman estimates that Oliver has 8 percent body fat.

What separates him from others, Herman says, is how he plays.

"I tell people all the time he has two speeds: 'off' and 'full,'" Herman said. "And he's not 'off' every often."

That motor was contagious enough that it raised the level of play for some of Oliver's older defensive line teammates during training camp, Herman said.

Oliver, the highest-ranked recruit Houston has ever signed and the first five-star prospect to sign with a school outside the Power 5 conference in the modern recruiting era, bucked a trend by choosing the Cougars over blue-blood programs like Alabama or Oklahoma. Now he's making an instant impact on a team that hopes to become the first program outside the Power 5 to crash the College Football Playoff.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops knew what he was up against. He was the first head coach to offer Oliver a scholarship when Oliver was about to begin his sophomore year at Westfield High School in North Houston.

"I don't know if it is so much because of the stars, but there's some guys that just stick out, like when we looked at Adrian Peterson," Stoops said. "It's like, 'Yeah. That's what you need.' Some of them are so obvious that we felt that way even about Samaje [Perine]. Regardless of what ranking it may be, you know this is a guy that's going to make a difference."

And it's clear that Oliver is that type of player for the Cougars.

"Yeah," Stoops said. "Excellent player."