Bo Knows Football

Senior linebacker Bo Olsen is the heart of the Shore’s No. 4 defense

By Brad Stratton
Staff Writer

RED Bank defensive coordinator Brad Olsen remembers a conversation he had with a 12-year-old water-boy in the late 1970s when he was an assistant coach at Fremont High School in Nebraska. When he asked the boy what he wanted to be someday, the child said he wanted to be the starting quarterback for the University of Nebraska.

Years later, and living in New Jersey, Olsen turned the television on and saw Gerry Gdowski quarterbacking the Cornhuskers against Oklahoma. The dream became a reality.

“I was at a coaches reunion in Nebraska and I ran into him,” Olsen said. “I asked him how he knew that when he was 12, and he told me, `My dad never told me I couldn’t. And if I worked hard enough, things would work out.”

Olsen took that lesson from Gdowski, now the offensive coordinator at New Mexico State, to heart when dealing with the dreams of his own son, Red Bank senior Bo Olsen.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder is one of the top players for the Buccaneers, playing in his fourth season with the varsity. He’s a two-year starter at middle linebacker and a three-year starter at tight end.

In addition, he’s the backup fullback and the backup quarterback. He’s practiced as an offensive tackle. Red Bank coach Harry Chebookjian said he could step in at wide receiver if the need arose.

“In my five years here, he’s going to be the toughest kid we’ve ever had to replace,” Chebookjian said. “We’ll have to replace him with five different men.”

Although his versatility on offense makes him invaluable, Chebookjian said he’s just as valuable on the defensive side of the ball.

Olsen grew into the middle linebacker position while working under Will Gilkinson, who is now a starting linebacker at Rutgers. Olsen watched and learned from Gilkinson. Chebookjian said he recognizes Gilkinson’s style in the way Olsen plays.

“They’re both very aggressive,” he said. “They’re students of the game, coaches that are on the field all the time.”

“(Gilkinson’s) work ethic was what I learned most,” Olsen said. “Even when he got his scholarship, he never stopped working. He was in the weight room and out running every day, even after the season ended. He was never satisfied with being great.”

Officially, Olsen’s tenure with the Bucs dated back to his freshman year, but his career at Red Bank has lasted much longer than that. He was a water boy for the team while in sixth grade.

Olsen’s long-time involvement with the program has plenty of benefits. He got to know many of the coaches, as well as spend time with his father.

To an outsider, the Olsens’ relationship might have appeared rough. Brad was pretty tough on his son but said it was necessary.

“I always tell people that his and my relationship was like Steve Spurrier and his quarterback,” Bo Olsen said. “I know he’s just trying to make me the best. He’s always been my biggest critic, but he’s also been my biggest fan.”

With the football season at it’s halfway point, there won’t be many more opportunities for Bo and Brad Olsen to connect as they have in the past. Every day brings potentially painful moment between father and son closer.

But Brad Olsen has been preparing for that day.

“My wife and I have talked about that a lot,” he said. “I started preparing for this four years ago. It’s going to be really tough on me. It probably is going to be OK for him. I don’t think there’s been anybody tougher on him than me. It’s going to be hard, especially in those last few practices.

“But I’m going to enjoy watching him play at college. It’ll be difficult, but at the same time he’s worked hard and he’ll go on to play Division 1-A.”

Where Olsen will play is a different issue. While he would welcome a chance to play on the professional level, his goal is medical school, not the NFL. Years of watching “Rescue 911″ and the Discovery Health Channel can take some credit for that.

So far, Olsen has been accepted to one school – West Point. The prospect of playing for Army is a tempting one, as West Point would pay all his tuition for medical school.

“That’s a really big thing,” he said. “Going through med school is a lot of money and if I go to West Point, I won’t have any loans to pay back. It’s definitely a great deal.”

But Olsen is still undecided. He’s also gotten serious interest from Northwestern, Duke, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt. There are other schools trying to win him over, although their lower academic standards aren’t appealing to him.

And then there’s the University of Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have taken plenty of interest in Olsen, inviting him to the annual Blue-Gold Scrimmage. As a lifelong fan, Olsen has shown just as much interest.

In 1994, Olsen and his father got the opportunity to see Notre Dame play at Boston College. Wearing a Notre Dame sweat suit, Olsen got on the field and had a picture taken of himself with the scoreboard in the background. He sent a copy of the print to then-coach Lou Holtz, thanking him for the experience and telling him that perhaps with enough hard work, he would play for the Irish one day.

Olsen received a handwritten letter from Holtz a month later, thanking him for being a Notre Dame fan and telling him that with enough hard work, maybe his dreams would come true.

Although his dream of playing for the Irish is still alive, it may have taken a hit in the last two months. Olsen’s cousin, Chris Olsen, was a sophomore quarterback at Notre Dame, No.2 on the depth chart behind Carlyle Holiday and MVP of the Blue-Gold Scrimmage.

Brad Olsen said Chris told him he was discouraged by a decreasing number of practice snaps while freshman quarterback Brady Quinn was gaining prominence. Chris finally responded by leaving the team in late August, and is now enrolled at the University of Virginia. His brother Greg, a freshman tight end, followed suit a few days later and is now at the University of Miami in Florida.

Olsen and his family have been paying the price since then, as angry Notre Dame fans have been calling the house and e-mailing Bo, telling him not to go to Notre Dame.

So far, Olsen is trying to ignore the mess.

“I’m still very interested in Notre Dame,” Olsen said. “I’ve been getting e-mails from fans, saying I shouldn’t try to go there, but it would be a great honor to be asked to go there. Notre Dame’s definitely not out of the picture.”

Asbury Park Press (Red Bank Reporter) – October 16, 2003