When Ben Olson committed to BYU and then-coach Gary Crowton in the fall of 2001, it figured that Olson would, in time, etch his name on the Cougars' long list of legendary quarterbacks. After all, Olson was rated the No. 1 high school QB in the nation and was considered by some the No. 1 overall prospect.
Six years later, circumstances have completely changed the 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior is wearing powder blue instead of dark blue. Olson is preparing to throw passes against BYU as the Cougars and Bruins collide Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
"Kind of ironic," said BYU linebacker Bryan Kehl, who was Olson's roommate in Provo during the 2002 season when they were true freshmen. "As soon as I found out last year we were playing UCLA, it pumped me up. I can't wait. (Olson) is a stud. He's a specimen athletically. He fits the mold of a West Coast offense quarterback. He's big, has great vision. He's athletic, has a powerful arm and he's a competitor. I'm looking forward to competing against him."
As a freshman five years ago, Kehl had been looking forward to competing with Olson. "We were planning on bringing the glory days back," he said. "Now, it's kind of turned opposite. It's interesting how things work out."
Yes, much has happened to create this intriguing scenario.
For his part, Olson, who threw five touchdown passes in a season-opening rout of Stanford last Saturday, is, not surprisingly, downplaying this upcoming reunion.
"To be honest, I feel like any other game I play. I'm approaching it like any other game," Olson said Tuesday during a teleconference with reporters. "It'll be fun to get out there and play against some of my buddies and old teammates."
The Cougars are also trying hard to ignore the Olson Factor. "He was a good buddy of mine, and he did leave us. He made that decision," said senior safety Corby Hodgkiss. "For him, he felt it was the best decision to make at the time. It's not really about Ben Olson against BYU. It's just another game. It's BYU against UCLA. We don't take that into consideration as we're preparing for UCLA that we're going to knock out Ben Olson because he left us. It's not one of those things."
Olson arrived in Provo amid plenty of hype and fanfare in the fall of 2002, having already publicly stated that his goal was to play in the National Football League someday. As it turned out, he never played a down for the Cougars and that 2002 campaign marked the first of three straight losing seasons under Crowton. After serving a mission, Olson transferred to UCLA.
"I had a great time at BYU. I have nothing bad to say about the university or anything like that," said Olson. "It's not like I left the school disgruntled with a bad taste in my mouth. I evaluated the situation and decided to make a decision that was best for my future. BYU is a great place, and I have fond memories of it there."
Crowton opted to redshirt Olson in 2002, though that decision was a controversial one. Kehl said Crowton's unfulfilled promise to Olson that he would start, or at least play, against Utah State that season heavily influenced Olson's decision to transfer.
"I was his roommate there at the hotel in Logan the night before that game," Kehl said. "I remember he was pretty excited because they told him that he was going to start. They changed their mind. He was pretty frustrated after that. That's a big part of why he's not here now."
A couple of weeks after that USU game, Olson announced his decision to serve a mission. Prior to that, he said he was undecided about going. "He was pretty upset with people saying he was just going on a mission so he could transfer (later)," Kehl said.
Before leaving for his mission, Olson told teammates and reporters that he would return to BYU. But after spending two years in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, his plans changed. That decision to transfer left a segment of the Cougar fan base disappointed, angry and frustrated.
"I definitely wasn't concerned about football while I was serving a mission. I came home and things were kind of in an upheaval at BYU," said Olson, who hails from Thousand Oaks, Calif. "Coach Crowton had just gotten fired. I determined that the best thing for me at the time was to pursue other options. I decided that UCLA would be that place for me."
Ironically, Olson's first collegiate start came last year against BYU's arch-rival, Utah. He passed for 318 yards which is his career-best in a 31-10 victory over the Utes. Midway through the season against Arizona, Olson suffered a knee injury and did not play the rest of the year. However, he won back the starting job during spring drills.
In May, Olson married Andrea Anderson, a St. George native. The couple was introduced by a mutual friend, and they dated for one year before their wedding. Olson, 24, is the only married player on the Bruin team, and he's also the oldest.
While Kehl recognizes much has changed in Olson's life over the past five years, at least one thing remains constant."At BYU, he was a typical college freshman, excited to be living the dream," Kehl said. "That's what I remember specifically when I saw him for the first time after our missions. I asked him, 'What have you been up to?' And he said, 'Just living the dream.' His dream is to be a successful, top-rated quarterback and play at the next level eventually. Hopefully he reaches that dream. I know he's working at it."
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