Friends, teammates, temporary foes? Trace Ford and Collin Oliver prepare for a Bedlam clash

Friends, teammates, temporary foes? Trace Ford and Collin Oliver prepare for a Bedlam clash

Teammates at Edmond Santa Fe first, then at Oklahoma State, the accomplished pass rushers find themselves on opposite sides of Bedlam in 2023.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Nov 2, 2023, 3:00pm CDT

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Nov 2, 2023, 3:00pm CDT

NORMAN —  Each graduated from Edmond Santa Fe and blossomed in the school’s football program. Both went on to star under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. Between them, they share a particular knack for chasing down and enveloping opposing quarterbacks. 

Oklahoma’s Trace Ford and OSU’s Collin Oliver are even wearing the same No. 30 this fall. 

No doubt about it; the defensive ends on either side of Bedlam are bound by countless commonalities. 

Stephanie Hanson, Santa Fe’s Freshman Academy principal, knows their connection well. It’s why she can usually spot the differences in the pair of accomplished pass rushers, too. 

As Ford and the ninth-ranked Sooners prepare to visit Oliver’s 22nd-ranked Cowboys in Stillwater this weekend, one particular distinction comes to Hanson’s mind.  

“Trace has always been the trash talker,” she said. “If I were to guess, it’ll be Trace probably starting it this weekend and then Collin laughing back at him.”

Teammates at Santa Fe first, then at OSU, Ford and Oliver face each other in different uniforms for the first time Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m., ABC) as the in-state foes meet tied atop the Big 12 Conference standings with four regular season games remaining. 

Ford, the defensive end who spent four seasons with the Cowboys from 2019-22, makes his anticipated return to Boone Pickens Stadium in the wake of the Sooners’ first defeat of 2023 in Week 9. Oliver, who etched his name in Bedlam lore the last time OU visited Stillwater, enters anchoring an OSU defense that’s played a part in a season-reviving four-game win streak.

“It’s going to be a great game,” Oliver said Monday. “But I’m going to hate him for the hour that I get to see him.”

Hanson is right. Ford could well be the one to instigate the verbal sparring when the 118th and last scheduled Bedlam kicks off. But it was Oliver, in fact, who opened the Bedlam trash talk four weeks early last month. 

After OU beat Texas on Oct. 7, Ford spent part of the Sooners’ Week 8 bye in Stillwater where he watched the Cowboys down Kansas. 

Oliver found him after the game for a catch up. Before parting ways, Oliver let Ford know he had Nov. 4 circled on the calendar. Only momentarily, the friendship goes on hold Saturday.

“I told him I can’t wait for this week,” Oliver, the third-year linebacker, said. “(Now), this week is here.”

Oklahoma’s Trace Ford (left) and Oklahoma State’s Collin Oliver (middle left) are two of the Edmond Santa Fe football family. On Saturday, the former teammates square off in the 118th playing of the Bedlam rivalry. (Photo provided by Stephanie Hanson).

Identical paths

Hanson has gotten to know the drive from Edmond to Stillwater in the last few years.

She made the trek often while Ford recovered from the series of surgeries during his time at OSU. The recent stream of Santa Fe alums playing for the Cowboys — Oliver, Talyn and Tabry Shettron and walkon Jaelen Tucker — has given Hanson a few more reasons to visit. 

On rough days, she’ll make the 55-mile trip north trip just to check in on any one of her former students. The visits almost always take Hanson to the place most other out-of-towners land in Stillwater: Eskimo Joe’s. 

Another constant until Ford hit the transfer portal and jumped to OU?

“Anytime that we had dinner over there — if Trace came, Collin came. If Collin came, Trace came,” Hanson said. “I think they found comfort in each other.”

Before they mowed through cheese fries and combined for 28 career sacks at OSU, Ford and Oliver were two of the most dominant defenders Santa Fe coach Kyle White has ever had.

Ford was a freshman with the Wolves during White’s first season in 2015. Oliver arrived two years later. The pair only overlapped for one season on the varsity squad; their tight relationship wouldn’t fully blossom until they teamed up with the Cowboys.

Ford and Oliver hardly lined up together in high school, but presented similar problems for opposing offenses.

“They made us go,” he said. “They’re freaks with just how athletic they are and how they play and how physically strong they are. They were matchup nightmares for people.”

After Ford left Santa Fe for OSU, Oliver became the Wolves’ next star defensive lineman, then followed Ford to the Cowboys’ program as a four-star prospect in 2021. Oliver’s 11.5 sacks that fall set the program’s freshman sack record.

The duo spent three seasons together in Stillwater until Ford traded OSU for Norman late last year. If the alignment in Ford and Oliver’s football journey is striking, their contrasts in personality are similarly stark.

Hanson remembers Ford as an outgoing, uber-confident high schooler who starred in baseball before his football career took off. She also recalls how Ford’s presence and intelligence stood out. He’d go on to graduate with a degree from OSU and will leave OU with his MBA.

Ford’s reflective disposition, the one most who’ve exclusively watched him hunt down opposing quarterbacks have never seen, always stuck with Hanson, too. 

She remembers a text Ford sent her during his junior year at OSU. 

“I really appreciate you taking the time my freshman year to work with me and work through my problems,” Hanson recalls Ford writing. “I still remember some of the things you said and I just wanted to let you know that I appreciated all of that.”

Oliver, meanwhile, carried a defined maturity and a poise of his own. The athlete who grew up playing hallway football in a makeshift Sooners uniform long before he wore orange and black showed a quieter side at Santa Fe.

Oliver has emerged from his shell at OSU. Even so, Hanson is still stunned when she sees him break out an expressive sack celebration, like the one Oliver pulled out after tripping up Caleb Williams to clinch the Bedlam win in 2021.

“I don’t remember that side of him,” she said. “I saw him recently on the sidelines talking to (OSU running back) Ollie Gordon laughing and cutting up. That was good to see.”

Injuries came to define Ford’s OSU career nearly as much as his ferocious pass rushing.He appeared in only nine of the 27 games the Cowboys played while he overlapped with Oliver on campus. It was in those years though that the relationship between the pair flourished.

“I think Collin learned a lot from Trace,” Hanson said. “I think Trace probably learned a lot from Collin, too.”

Oliver can’t be sure when he’ll see Ford Saturday. It’s possible they won’t be on the field at the same time for any of the game’s 60 minutes. Whenever Oliver does finally get his shot, he’ll relish the opportunity to see his former teammate in new colors.

“I get to finally talk trash to him,” Oliver said. “I haven’t been able to do it in all my years of knowing him. This is going to be my first time doing that. I hope I see him after the game. We can get some flicks up and chat.”

Doubts and hard decisions

There will, of course, be an elephant in the room Saturday. It’s already on Hanson’s mind.

Ford’s decision to flip sides in the Bedlam rivalry drew immediate and widespread rancor from the fanbase in Stillwater. Those emotions have largely held over the 10 months since. Ford knows the reception that’s likely waiting for him Saturday.

“I think some relationships probably were kind of burned from my decision,” he said earlier this year. 

Ford explained the motive behind his decision to leave OSU not long after he arrived in Norman.

The injuries that piled up in Stillwater required a series of physical recoveries and took a mental toll. By the end of the 2022 season, Ford said, he couldn’t walk into Boone Pickens Stadium without wincing or having his mind flash back to the torn ligaments in his knee.

He knew he needed a refresh for the final chapter in his college football career. Still, Ford harbored doubts. 

“How would my OSU teammates feel about it? How would my relationships be impacted from the people I know in Stillwater?” he said. “You grow close to a lot of your teammates over four years. So it was more about just how they would feel and how the community would feel overall.”

Ford made his choice and landed with the other Power Five program that lies within 60 miles of home. OU football, Ford said, felt like family. Like Stillwater, Norman offered plenty of places to fish.

The better portion of the 60,000 fans inside Boone Pickens Stadium are sure to let Ford know how they feel about him Saturday. Hanson hopes they’ll consider the person on the field who once wore No. 94 for the Cowboys and now dons OU crimson. 

“I want them to understand this guy gave you a lot of years. He played through injuries. He gave you 110% when he was there,” she said. “They can wish he was at Oklahoma State. But just remember there’s still a man behind the helmet that made a decision that he thought was best for him.”

Hanson is a graduate of East Central University in Ada. She doesn’t have any true Bedlam allegiances, though the recent pipeline from Santa Fe to Stillwater has pulled Hanson toward OSU. With Ford’s jump to the Sooners and the OU commitments of 2024 Santa Fe prospects Josh Aisosa and Bergin Kysar, the scales are balancing.

Hanson’s heart lies not with the teams, but instead with a handful of individual players Saturday. 

After texting with both Ford and Oliver this week, she’s certain of two things. 

“They’re both excited to play against each other — they’re like brothers,” Hanson said. “And there will definitely be some trash talk back and forth. Probably more coming from Trace.”

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at eli@selloutcrowd.com.

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