Dec. 16, 2004
By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer
Tell Dennis your opinion!

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Ben Olson is wiser. Maturity happens when you have a thousand doors slammed in your face or are cursed at on a regular basis. Don't forget the odd cup of mystery liquid thrown on you shortly after identifying yourself as a Mormon missionary.

"I don't think there could be anything tougher mentally," said the nation's hottest college football prospect. "Definitely, your skin gets pretty thick."

Karl Dorrell (right) might be able to land a recruit that will bring UCLA closer to Pete Carroll's USC Trojans. (Getty Images)
That's part of the reason why Olson is more in control this time. He's 21, back from a two-year Mormon mission in Calgary. That's quite a change from 2002, when he was the nation's No. 1 quarterback recruit coming out of Thousand Oaks High.

Now: Older, wiser and essentially a five-star free agent eligible to sign with any school after redshirting his first year at Brigham Young in 2002. Seldom, if ever, has a case like Olson's popped up. Kids take Mormon missions all the time, but they usually do it before their college clock starts ticking or in the middle of their eligibility, usually returning to their original school.

Not Olson, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound stud with a rocket for a left arm who officially announced this week what the recruiting world knew for months: He wasn't returning to Provo.

NCAA rules essentially count military service or a mission as a transfer year, so Olson is free and clear to sign again.

"It's probably as crazy, if not more crazy, than the first time," Olson said from his living room in this well-to-do Southern California suburb. "I thought more teams would be more hesitant about me being gone for two years. I've been amazed at all the interest I've gotten because I haven't played a down of college football yet."

Technically, Olson is a five-star non-high school player, according to He is not rated as a high school player, ready to turn 22 in February. If lumped in with those high school players, though, recruiting expert Jeremy Crabtree said Olson would be up at the top.

"The question is, what's he been doing with a football?" Crabtree said.

The answer begins with a body that looks like it was chiseled about of marble. Since Olson returned from the mission, he has dedicated his life to refining his football talents. He took the first semester off, working out at a nearby training center to hone his skills. He throws every day preparing for the next big event in his life, the Feb. 2 signing day.

"I honestly think I'll be a better player," Olson said. "I've played a lot of games in my mind. It's going to take some time. I'm not saying I'll step under center and be awesome. But through hard work, I'll be better than I ever was."

That beats the downside of cold-calling Canadians about his faith. The day typically started at 10 a.m. and lasted until 9:30 p.m. The only football was maybe 10 minutes of throwing with a friend.

"We believe that we have something that will help you in your life," Olson said. "We're not there to shove it down your throat."

Oddly, Olson was criticized by some BYU fans this week for leaving. But who could blame him? The program has descended into mediocrity. Since he left BYU, the Cougars are 9-14. Coach Gary Crowton resigned Dec. 1. "It's kind of a funny message," Olson said. "The university that you choose wants to use you. For the things that you can bring to the table and vice versa, you want to use the university.


"I'm looking for the place that will help me develop my skills as a player. In the meantime, let's win some games. Let's use each other."

UCLA is the current favorite. Olson could commit as soon as this weekend. But schools are pulling out all the stops to land this rare talent. There have been additional visits to Arizona State and Cal. Steve Spurrier picked up the scent shortly after joining South Carolina and began recruiting Olson.

"I'm interested," Olson said. "I'd love to talk to them."

Oregon commissioned a faux comic book that has Olson leading the Ducks to the national championship game. Nicknamed "The Gunslinger" in the story, Olson has to take a visit to Eugene to get the other half of the comic and find out what happens.

Understandably, Olson wants to play somewhere warm after tromping around Alberta. If he does stay home and pick UCLA, his presence could literally turn around the program. The Bruins have almost been reduced to agate type in Los Angeles since Pete Carroll arrived at Southern California.

USC has won six in a row over the Bruins and Carroll has closed down the recruiting borders in Southern California.

But in Olson's case, USC might have too many stars. Even if Heisman winner Matt Leinart leaves for the NFL, the Trojans are well stocked at quarterback with John David Booty and incoming recruit Mark Sanchez.

"They're very young and I think they're seeing the effects of that this year," Olson said of the Bruins, who finished 6-5. "But I definitely think UCLA's going in the right direction. It's close to home. It's got a lot to offer."

The winner of the Olson sweepstakes is getting an All-American kid it hopes will become an All-American player. In his final year at Thousand Oaks, Olson threw for 2,823 yards and 32 touchdowns.

On a recent Sunday, he pulled up to his home in a 1955 Ford pickup that he has restored. Olson apologized for being late, sporting a small spaghetti sauce stain on his Oxford shirt. He had been eating a meal with his family at church.

It sure didn't look like the world was coming to him -- again.

"I'm just a lot more mature, not naïve as I once was," Olson said. "I'm relaxed, I'm in control. I was overwhelmed a bit coming out of high school. I'm the one making the decision, not questioning, 'What if I would have done this, what if I would have done that?'"