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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 27 2013

Olson's football IQ gives Bison a coach on the field

Fargo - It was a heartwarming story this week when 11-year-old Jordan Peterson returned to elementary school in Fargo after almost a year away. He made the successful rally from undergoing a double-lung transplant operation.

It was a long 11 months, although made shorter on occasion by phone calls to North Dakota State linebacker Grant Olson. Jordan used one of his parent’s cell phones and called the Bison senior about once a month.

“He just sent me a picture,” Olson said. “He went to Scheels and bought my jersey, so that’s pretty cool to see.”

The two made a bond at last year’s FCS national title game. Jordan was in Houston awaiting a donor, and the Bison played three hours north in Frisco, Texas. Olson said the youngster’s maturity at such a young age was “mind blowing” to him.

“I think Jordan taught me more than he’s gotten from me or the team,” Olson said. “I can’t imagine going through right now what he’s gone through. I think he’s helped me grow as a man, and I’m very thankful for the influence he’s had on my life.”

One facet of Olson’s life that Jordan would have a hard time being an influence on is the technical philosophy of NDSU’s Tampa 2 defense. The senior is a virtual genius at middle linebacker.

He’s a mixture of Einstein and Butkus wrapped into one.

“Sometimes he’ll drive you a little bit nuts,” head coach Craig Bohl said, referring to a player knowing the X’s and O’s as well as a coach.

It’s gotten to the point where Olson has told Bohl he doesn’t want to tell him how to do his job.

“So I said, ‘Grant, it sounds like you’re trying to tell me how to do my job,’” Bohl said with a laugh.

In explaining Bohl’s comment, Olson said: “It’s not so much that we should do ‘this.’ It’s more of why are we doing it ‘this way?’ The explanation helps me understand why we’re doing it and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

It’s gotten to the point where Olson knows what all 11 defensive players should be doing on every play. Bohl has been coaching since 1984 and has been at some of the top programs in the country. So it’s saying something when he calls Olson “the smartest football player I’ve ever been around.”

“Understanding what the entire team is doing on a given play helps me play faster,” Olson said.

It’s gotten to the point where Olson could probably land a job in coaching the minute his playing days are done. An industrial engineering major, he admits he’s unsure if wants to pursue a career in his academic major field.

“I’ve always enjoyed football, and I enjoy working with people,” he said.

His advanced state of football IQ has enabled the Bison to raise their bar on defense as far as doing more with different assignments.

“Not only Grant’s play but the others around him because of his special abilities mentally,” Bohl said.

Those smarts likely allowed him to play in a reserve role as a true freshman. For two years, he played behind starting middle linebacker Preston Evans, who like Olson, had that take-command leadership ability.

When Evans graduated, it was obvious who was next in line. Moreover, Olson was named a team captain as a junior.

He led the team with a whopping 148 tackles – the first time a Bison defender topped at least 100 stops since linebacker Ben Ahneman did it in 1998.

The shining moment was a school single-game record of 29 tackles in the FCS playoff win over Wofford College (S.C.). He quarterbacked the Bison defense to a FCS-best 11.5 points per game allowed.

This year, it’s true freshmen like middle linebacker Nick DeLuca who perhaps will benefit the most. He’s the backup behind Olson.

“He’s been a great role model,” DeLuca said. “The way he studies film and works hard, he’s just real disciplined in his work ethic, and it’s something I definitely take note of.”

For his leadership role, Olson said it’s one thing to make sure the younger players understand the complexities of the defense. But the biggest thing, Olson said, is figuring out the pride factor.

“How we play,” Olson said. “Just the level of tenacity and the willingness to prepare that you need to be a dominant college linebacker. It’s not easy. I know (DeLuca) has the skill set to do it. Now it comes down to mentally doing it – is he going to make that effort? I’m hoping he will.”

Just like some head coach is hoping to land Olson as an assistant coach someday – soon.

“He’s not only smart, but he has a great value system, and he communicates well,” Bohl said. “I think he has a really bright future if he wants to go into coaching. I have encouraged him to go into coaching.”


Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia