Naples' Robert Oliver, who rushed for a game-high 75 yards, stiff arms a Vicenza defender in the Wildcats' 40-0 victory over the Cougars on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023.

Naples' Robert Oliver, who rushed for a game-high 75 yards, stiff arms a Vicenza defender in the Wildcats' 40-0 victory over the Cougars on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Stars and Stripes has selected an Athlete of the Year for each of the respective fall sports played across each of DODEA’s Europe and Pacific theaters. Check out our site this week to read profiles for golf (Tuesday), tennis (Wednesday), cross country (Thursday), volleyball (Friday) and football (Saturday).

Robert Oliver felt a bit out of place during his junior season on the Naples football team.

His older brother Gary – who this year played for Olivet Nazarene University – was the Wildcats’ star running back. So Robert played wideout.

It wasn’t a position he hated, Oliver said. But he prefers running back. And, yes, he said laughing, a bit of sibling rivalry is going on.

So this year, he wore No. 37 and led the way for the Wildcats.

“I took his number,” Oliver said. “I wanted to look after it.”

Just as his brother did, Oliver – Stars and Stripes’ football Athlete of the Year – led the Wildcats to a DODEA-Europe Division II title. He put up some gaudy numbers along the way, rushing for 1,256 yards and scoring 22 touchdowns in a seven-game season. A few of those scores came via punt or kickoff returns. He also grabbed three interceptions while starting at safety on defense.

Naples coach Jim Davis admitted he wasn’t sure about the adjustment at first.

“He was a good track athlete, but that doesn’t always transfer,” Davis said.

Oliver was a member of both the Wildcats’ 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams that won track titles in May.

But he quickly showed Davis he was more than just about speed.

“We definitely wouldn’t have been as strong without him,” Davis said.

If Oliver makes a collegiate football roster in the fall, he’ll be the third Naples back in recent years to do so. Ashton Jeanty, who played for Naples as a freshman in 2018 before transferring back to the States, currently is starring for Boise State.

At 5 feet, 10 inches and 169 pounds, Oliver’s not that intimidating on the field at first glance. But he was just as willing to run over people during the season as he was around them.

He says he thinks his biggest strength is “my desire and my unwillingness to give up on a play until the whistle.”

Oliver said he began playing football in pads in the sixth grade while the family lived in Wiesbaden, Germany. And though he also played basketball and ran track in his 2 1/2 years in Naples, football is his sport.

“I would say I’m an all-around athlete, but I just like football more,” he said during a phone interview from the family’s new home near Fort Eisenhower in Georgia. The Olivers moved back to the States at the beginning of November.

Oliver said he has some tape of his games this year to show college coaches. He certainly had some highlights. But despite the high yardage numbers, not as much tape on him exists as there might be on other running backs. The Wildcats played competitively in three games against Aviano – winning two of them, including the title game. But the team’s other four victories came via mercy rule, so Oliver rarely carried the ball past the second quarter.

Despite that, Oliver said he’s confident he’ll find a place on a team in the fall.

“I think I have a lot to offer,” he said. “I think I’m someone who has a lot of grit. I’m a team player and I’ll just do whatever it takes to help my team win.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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