By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
Some might regard it as a refreshing twist that Jake Oliver’s favorite recollection of his senior season at Jesuit College Preparatory School was not the night he broke a revered Texas high school football record.
Instead, he said he most cherishes his team’s season-opener in Dublin, Ireland, because it engendered a shared, three-generational memory. Not only his parents but also grandparents made the trip, which Jake said made the season for him.
“It was such a great experience,” said Oliver, a receiver who is scheduled on Feb. 6 to sign a National Letter of Intent to play for the University of Texas. “I’ve grown up in a very Catholic family, so it was great for us to combine that with travel to Ireland and a football game.”
Faith, family and sports have provided Oliver with strong ties to many of the Dallas-area Catholic community’s components, which his coaches and acquaintances said have fostered his unselfish attitude on and off the field.
Though Oliver ranks as the alltime Texas high school receptions leader with 308 career catches, he said he didn’t remember the exact date of his record-setting night (it was Oct. 19). He said he knew it was Senior Night and a highly emotional evening.
But he can tell you all about his childhood days as a Friars ball boy when his father, Gary Oliver, coached football at Bishop Lynch High School.
Jake also said he loves recalling his grade-school days when he and his older brother, Jackson, tossed around a football with family and friends after Friars games.
“Jackson never took it easy on me,” Jake said with a grin. “It was fun, but it was tough.”
As he focuses on running and lifting weights to prepare for football at the next level, Jake, 6-4, said that he never forgets the connections that matter.
“Religion and football teach types of discipline,” Jake said. “Both help make your family a close-knit family.”
His family’s local Catholic connections include the following:
— His mother, Ellen Landenberger Oliver, grew up in the Mary Immaculate Catholic Community and teaches physical education and computer science at St. Rita Catholic School.
— He and his family are parishioners at St. Rita.
— His father, Gary Oliver, served as head football coach at Bishop Lynch High School, where the Friars won two Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools state championships during his tenure.
— His brother, Jackson, a student at the University of Oklahoma, graduated from St. Rita and Jesuit (2010), where he played quarterback.
— His sister, Emma, graduated from St. Rita and is a freshman at Ursuline Academy, where she plays volleyball.
Allegiance to Dallas Catholic schools and family values infl uenced Oliver’s parents’ career moves, said Bishop Lynch athletic director Andy Zihlman, who headed the search committee that hired Gary in 1998.
Gary, a former Texas A&M receiver, had been coaching on the college level when he interviewed for the head football coaching position at Lynch. He had been a member of the football coaching staffs at Texas A&M, Southern Methodist University and Sam Houston State University.
Zihlman said that he asked Gary about leaving college coaching for a high school job.
“He was moving up in the colleges, but he told me, ‘I’m a family guy,’ ” Zihlman said. “He said the travel involved in college coaching kept him away from his family. That’s what sold me on him. I knew I was getting a family person. I was blown away by how well he interviewed and then how easy he was to work with.”
Former NFL player Ryan Moats, who played for Bishop Lynch when Gary coached the Friars, said that he loved baby-sitting for young Jake. “Coach Oliver’s children loved their parents and loved being around their parents,” said Moats, who now is Bishop Dunne Catholic School’s assistant director of technology and student development director.
“You can’t talk about Coach Oliver without talking about his family. He shared his life with me and I still look to him for advice.”
Gary, who is the CEO for Fieldhouse USA in Frisco, said that the family left Dallas only once since he coached at Lynch, and not for long. After he led the Friars to state titles in 2002 and 2003, he said he accepted the Midlothian High School athletic director’s position to give the public school arena a try.
“Not long after we had built a house there, I came home, sat at the dinner table and said, ‘I want to take the kids back to St. Rita,’ ” Gary said. “We just loved that environment. Our time when I was at Bishop Lynch had been phenomenal.”
Ellen, who met Gary in the Texas A&M weight room when she played soccer for the Aggies and Gary played football, said that she was eager to return to the Dallas Catholic environment.
“From then on, we’ve never looked back,” said Ellen, who is the daughter of tennis players Dick and Anita Landenberger. Dick Landenberger is a Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame member who represented the U.S. at several World Championships. “St. Rita has been such a huge part of our lives. We’ve been blessed.”
Ellen and Gary, who got married at Mary Immaculate in 1990, resettled their family in a home close to St. Rita when they returned from Midlothian.
“Some of my best memories were when Jackson, Emma and I all were students there at the same time,” Jake said. “I loved being able to go to and from school with all of us together with Mom.”
Jesuit head football coach Brandon Hickman said that Jake always has been a team player with unselfish tendencies. It did not surprise Hickman that Jake had not committed the date of his record-breaking night to memory, the coach said.
“He enjoys blocking as much as catching passes,” Hickman said. “He’s close with his teammates and treats all of them the same.”
Despite his parents’ ties to Texas A&M and having a brother at OU, Jake said that everyone supported his decision to play for Texas.
“I’ve been 100 percent certain of my decision since last year,” said Jake, who won the Tom Landry Award that honors North Texas’ best player. “It’ll be awesome for my grandparents and whole family to come to the games. Football always has been a family affair.”