It’s become Brady Oliveira’s thing now and a regular occurrence every time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ bulldozing running back rises from the ground after another yardage-munching run.
Emerging from a pile of bodies, Oliveira rises up and begins slapping his hand on his own helmet. It’s a gesture, he explains, that says so much both about his hunger for more work and his growing confidence – especially now that he is just 10 yards shy of his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.
“I guess it’s almost like my staple now,” began Oliveira with a grin during a chat with bluebombers.com. “Last year the season started slow for me and I didn’t really have that confidence. After a run I’d get up and didn’t want to do anything.
“Now that we’ve stacked good game after good game and every single week we’re getting better I’m building that confidence. Me smacking my head like that just juices me up. I love to play a physical game and after a big run or a physical run I like to get up and smack my head or bang heads with my guys on the O-line.
“It fires me up, personally. It’s what I need to go back into the huddle and get ready to do it again. It just really jacks me up, man. It feels good.”
And the message it says to everyone else, especially those on the other side of the line of scrimmage?
“It’s, ‘I’m here. It’s going to be a long night because I run tough,’” Oliveira added. “And it’s ‘Let’s go! We can bang heads all night for an entire four quarters, but it’s got to be all four quarters, not just three because if you don’t bring it for the entire four, you’ll see what’s going to happen.’”
Oliveira reached the 1,000-yard mark on his final carry a year ago, punctuating the accomplishment with a 20-yard run in the regular season finale against the B.C. Lions. He then followed that up with a monster 130-yard effort in the West Final victory over the Lions, and another 82 yards in the loss to the Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup.
Even with all that, his 2023 season feels like a coming-out party of sorts, as Oliveira leads the league with 990 yards through 12 games, while his 311 yards receiving has him at a league-best 1,301 yards from scrimmage.
Just to put what he’s done so far this year in perspective, both Willard Reaves and Robert Mimbs share the Blue Bombers record for the fastest to 1,000-yards in a season, with Reaves getting there in just 10 games in 1984 and Mimbs matching that in 1991.
“I guess it’s more on my mind this week because guys have been bringing it up and the offensive line is fired up about it,” Oliveira said. “It’s right there. Last week it wasn’t on my mind at all, but now that it’s 10 yards away I just never would have imagined that by Week 13 I’d almost be hitting 1,000 yards in my second year in back-to-back seasons.”
“I’ve always said I’m blessed, man. I never thought I’d be here and I’m thankful for the opportunity. This offensive line makes it all possible, I’ve got to say that. There’s been lots of runs this year where they get me to the second level and I’m going six-seven yards untouched. Credit to them. They’re a huge, huge, huge part to my success. They truly block their butts off for me and I can feel the love from them every single day. It makes me want to go out there and play harder.”
Andrew Harris, who has been so instrumental in Oliveira’s career, was the last Blue Bombers running back to lead the CFL in rushing, doing so from 2017-19. Oliveira finished third a year ago at 1,001 yards – just behind Calgary’s Ka’Deem Carey (1,088) and James Butler, then with B.C. (1,060).
“He’s probably one of the most physical backs I’ve played with,” said Blue Bombers centre Chris Kolankowski. “He just gives you that confidence that as long as we take care of the big guys, he’ll run through someone at the next level and get those extra yards. And it’s really reassuring when we’re close or at the goal line as long as we dent the front, he’s going to run through whoever hits him first.
“He needs his touches and when he gets in his groove, he’s almost unstoppable because he starts wearing down guys hitting him. Even in short yardage when he’s not getting the ball, he hits guys and he’s using that to send a message. It’s ‘when I have the ball and when I hit you it’s going to feel like this.’ Every chance he gets, he’s being physical.
“And the head slap thing he does? Love that energy. Love it. It’s like he’s one of us it’s just that he carries the ball. He fits in with the O-line mentality. He’s just a grinder who likes to hit and we love that.”