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Prep Football Preview: Oliver fires up Chargers, but not himself

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Chancellor football coach Bob Oliver has become known for his demonstrative mannerisms on the sidelines. He cannot stand still, and he sometimes cannot keep his cool.

But this season has been different. Oliver is more calm and more poised and more focused on relaxing during tense moments. It is not because he has lost his passion for football. He has calmed down because doctors told him he had to, because last spring he almost died. He has calmed down because he now has a pacemaker attached to his heart. That pacemaker was installed to save his life, but at first, it almost killed him.

“I’m trying to do everything I can just to stay around,” Oliver said after a practice this week. “I hate to think of the possibility of not being able to coach or teach.”

Each December, after another football season is complete and the wear and tear has taken its toll, Oliver usually feels under the weather.

He had become so used to this malaise that he thought little of it. Usually, by Christmas, he would feel like himself again. But last winter, his fatigue lingered well into winter.

On March 26, he was leading a spring football practice when his head and chest began to hurt. The following morning, he arrived at school around 6 a.m. to prepare for his day, and he passed out.

When he regained consciousness, he was alone, and he figured he was fine, so he continued with his day and taught his class. But he emailed his wife, Jan, and told her what had happened, and later that evening he went to a cardiologist.

“I go in, and they said ‘You need to go to the hospital right now,’” Oliver said.

His arteries were severely clogged. He had three stents put in, as well as a pacemaker.

He returned home after a couple of days, and soon after, he began to have convulsions. A wire from his pacemaker had perforated his septal wall, causing severe internal bleeding.

“And that’s what about killed me,” Oliver said. “I had a bleed, and they didn’t know how to stop it.”

His blood pressure plummeted and he was in intensive care at the University of Virginia’s hospital for two weeks. He recovered slowly and had to learn how to walk again. Nurses told him he was a miracle.

Oliver was not focused on himself, however; he just wanted his doctors to understand he had to get back to Chancellor so he could resume teaching and coaching football.

“The doctors looked at me like I was crazy,” he said.

He ultimately returned to school last May 14, and by that point he had already instituted several life changes. During his years as a baseball and football coach, so many late nights ended with burgers and fries. Now, he is focused on fruits and vegetables. At dinner, he has one plate of food rather than three.

“And no more buffets,” Oliver said. “It’s carrots and apples and grapes.”

Oliver’s doctors cleared him to return to football, with some hesitation. They said he could not get knocked down, so now he stands off to the side during defensive drills. They also said he could not get worked up. That part has been more difficult.

“Last Friday my doctor told me not to stress,” Oliver said. “I said, ‘Well, we play Courtland on Friday night.’”

At practices, Oliver relies on his assistants to do most of the hooting and hollering. At games he tries to put everything in perspective.

Last week, the Chargers were in a heated game against Courtland, their biggest rival. The game was scoreless after regulation, and Courtland won, 8–7, after completing a two-point conversion in overtime. Jan Oliver looked down on the field and saw her husband seething.

Then Oliver slowly calmed himself down. He thought about his wife and children. He thought about all the things his team had done correctly that night.

“I thought about the positive things, which was a change from the past, when I just thought about the bottom line of wins and losses,” Oliver said. “When people would tell you you played a good game, it wouldn’t mean anything. But it means more now.”

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442