Michael N. Oliphant
Auburn Panthers - Running
Spending only one year as a semi-pro player with the
Auburn Panthers, Mike Oliphant parlayed that opportunity
into one of the semi-pro dreams; a spot on an NFL roster.
It actually only took Oliphant four games as a Panther to
get noticed and invited to be a part of the University of
Puget Sound's football team.
It all started May 19, 1984 when Michael and the Panthers
were introduced on a cold and rainy Saturday morning at the
first-ever tryout camp for the Auburn franchise.
Oliphant was one of 70 players on hand and few came with
less credentials. His background was limited to Little
League ball and a year on the Auburn High School sophomore
team. "I really didn't even play much as a sophomore,"
he said, whose duties were limited mostly to returning
kicks. "I was too small in high school," he remembers,
"I was only about 5'6", 150 lbs. Transferring to
Federal Way High School midway through his junior year,
Michael never tried the game again until the Panthers
arrived on the scene. Hearing about the team at an
Auburn restaurant, the now 5'10" 170-pounder doubted
his ability next to all the outstanding athletes the
Panthers were putting together, but decided to give it a shot anyway,
because deep down, he knew if given a chance, he could
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Most of the players at the workout that day had been
recruited by Panther Head Coach Steve Harshman or invited to participate, but
the unknown kid made his presence felt immediately.
Working out with the wide receivers; it was time to run
40-yd dashes. Harshman recalls, "Mike was clocked
between 4.43 and 4.5 seconds on three consecutive runs.
We were very impressed with his speed, he caught the ball
well, too. We were surprised when we looked at his
limited background". What happened next was great
foresight on the part of Coach Harshman. With the top
three pass receivers in the NFA from '83 listed on the
Panthers roster, Harshman decided to move Oliphant to
running back. "Our only concern about him was what
would happen when he got hit the first time." Harshman
said. Michael responded on his first carry in a
scrimmage by bouncing off a pair of tacklers and spinning
free for a 15-yd gain. The Panthers had something
In the opening non-league game of the season, Oliphant
broke a scoreless tie with the Bellevue Express with a
dazzling 34-yd dash to paydirt, scoring the Panthers
first-ever touchdown. The Panthers would win in
overtime on Oliphant's 13 carries for 93 yards and 2
receptions for 25 yards.
The next week, he only carried 9 times for 36 yards, but
it was his pass reception for the winning touchdown that
kept the Panthers on the winning track, and set the stage
for Michael's breakout game.
Against the Spokane Fury, Michael busted loose only four
minutes into the game and brought the crowd to its feet with
a sizzling 85-yd touchdown dash. Six minutes later he
took a pitch-out on a sweep left for 77-yds and another
touchdown. On the night this sudden star rushed for
172 yards on 11 carries.
The next week, he helped the Panthers in a
come-from-behind 31-30 victory over the Express, and got his
first call from Puget Sound coach Ron Simonson. The
next three days were a blur of entrance exams and financial
aid forms as he made the big decision to leave the Panthers
and enroll in college. Harshman and Oliphant discussed
the dedication of going to classes as well as playing
football that this move meant for a 21-year old who had been
away from the books for over three years. With help
from former elementary school best friend, Roy Medley, now
the UPS quarterback, and running back Todd McGrady and
heeding Coach Harshman's advice, Michael made the jump even
though he missed the first four days of practice and would
not get to play in the first game against Linfield.
The next week against crosstown rival Pacific Lutheran in
the Tacoma Dome, Michael watched from the sidelines as PLU
opened up a 22-10 halftime lead.
"I told Coach Simonson at halftime I was 'hungry',"
Oliphant said. Simonson replied: "We don't feed
everybody who's hungry." But when the Loggers took the
field in the second half, Oliphant was in the backfield and
he responded on 17 carries with 129 yards leading UPS to a
32-22 comeback win. He was named All-Evergreen
Conference Player of the Week.
Later in the season he had a 90-yard kickoff return for a
TD against Whitworth. He would be named to the
All-Evergreen Conference team as a kick returner.
In 1985 he was named a 2nd Team NAIA
By 1986, Michael had become an NAIA
All-American, and was also starring as a track athlete
posting a 10.6 in the 100 meters and 21.8 in the 200 meters
ranking in the Top 10 all-time at UPS. His records
that still stand at UPS include: Points scored in a
game (30), in a season (96), TD in a game (5),
and TD in a season (16).
In 1987 he was again tabbed a 2nd
Team NAIA All-American, Kodak All-American, and AFCA
All-American, 2nd Team AP Little All-America, All-Conference
Player of the Year and his third selection as an
All-Conference Player ('85, '86, '87).
In 1988 he earned the Ben Cheney
Most Outstanding Male Athlete award at UPS and was drafted
by the Washington Redskins in the third round of the 1988
draft (pick #66). As a 25-year old rookie, he appeared
in 8 games carrying the ball 8 times for 30 yards, catching
15 passes for 111 yards, returning 7 punts for 24 yards and
7 kickoffs for 127 yards.
In a trade with Cleveland, where
Ernest Byner was sent to Washington in exchange for
Oliphant, the Browns got 18 games from '89-'91, but only 1
Mike resurrected his career with the
CFL's Sacramento Gold Miners in 1993, after being cut from
the Seattle Seahawks in '92, leading the team in
rushing with 760 yards and 8 touchdowns. Once again,
Oliphant would score the first-ever touchdown for a
franchise, just as he did with the Auburn Panthers
nine-years prior, Michael would dash into the record books
with the CFL's first US-based franchise on July 7, 1993.
He would tack on another 812 yards receiving and 5 more
touchdowns in '93 earning a spot on the CFL All-Star team
with 1,572 yards from scrimmage and 13 scores.
A thigh injury crippled his '94
campaign gaining only 27 yards rushing and 75 yards
In 1995 Mike would work with the
Winnipeg Blue Bombers for a few games before calling it a
career at the age of 32. Michael Oliphant had done
what all semi-pro players dream of...received a second
chance at football and capitalized on it. A college
education and an 8-year professional career.