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Eyes on SPJ: Roundup & Notes

Just two days before game day the focus of the traditional media is on the Southpaw Jesus. Dohn writes how some wackos folks over at Provo are still bitter of SPJ’s decision to come to UCLA instead of returning to BYU:

"There is a sizeable part of the population that refers to him as Benedict Olson," said Patrick Kinahan, who hosts a radio sports talk show on 1320-AM KFAN in Salt Lake City. "Right now, Ben Olson is public enemy No. 1. One of their own turned against them, and they are not going to forgive."
I for one have never cared much about morons in talk radio. They typically cater to the lowest common denominator. So whatever. Dohn though went on to provide the Olson side of the story:
The reason for the uproar is clearly understood. Olson, a good-looking, 6-foot-4, red-haired lefty, was going to be the face of BYU football. He was the No. 1 high school recruit out of Thousand Oaks High in 2002. He could have picked any school in the nation and chose BYU, a quarterback factory that has produced Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer. The Cougars had their next big-time player.

According to people close to Olson, a series of events began to transpire almost immediately upon his arrival in which he thought he was misled. He was already disenchanted with then-coach Gary Crowton, and it culminated Oct. 4, 2002, at Utah State.

The Cougars were trailing 34-7 at the half, and Olson was told to warm up because he was going in the game. Instead, Bret Engemann started the second half, led a quick scoring drive and finished the game as BYU won 35-34.

Three weeks later the school announced Olson was leaving BYU to serve his mission. Included in the official announcement from BYU was the typical public relations-type, make-the-fans-feel-good comment from Olson, stating "I'm coming back to BYU."

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who replaced Crowton after the 2004 season, never spoke with Olson about a return. Mendenhall's conversations were with Ben's father, Rick, and several times during this Tuesday's conference call, Mendenhall made sure it was known Olson's decision not to come back had nothing to do with him, but rather the previous staff.

"I really wasn't part of the whole history," Mendenhall said. "When I was named as the head coach and started to learn and educate myself regarding Ben's situation, it appeared to me that there were some things that happened when he was at BYU, and he was going to choose another direction."

Olson left BYU as a wide-eyed 19-year-old. When his mission ended in November 2004, his priorities changed, and being close to family topped the list.

"When it got down to it," Olson said, "I just wanted to play against the Pac-10."
And that makes sense. Moreover, take it from a California kid, once you leave California, no matter how much you love it in another place, your heart always remains in California. Especially when all your families and so many of your friends are still back home. It is just ridiculous to fault a kid like Olson for coming back home upon receiving the opportunity to be the starting quarterback at UCLA.

Now whether or not Olson can be successful after his mission is an interesting question. Foster explores that question in his today’s article in the LA Times:
Although mission work is not required by the Mormon Church, it is strongly suggested, and many followers serve for two years sometime during their college years. No matter what the timing is among quarterbacks, it seems their football life is more difficult when they return.

Olson and Hall (BYU QB) are only the latest case studies, though both have an opportunity to alter history.

BYU, the university most associated with Mormon athletes, has won 22 conference championships, but only two with a starting quarterback who had gone on a mission.
I am not sure if we should fall for that argument. Foster himself provides the following examples later in his article of QBs who were successful even after serving their missions:
Darrell Bevell, who served his mission in the Cleveland area, led Wisconsin to two Big Ten titles and a Rose Bowl in 1994. Paul Peterson, who served in Nicaragua, was 12-2 as a starter at Boston College in 2003-04.

"Almost every young man who comes back ends up exceeding where they were before," Mendenhall said.
Note the common denominator in cases of Bevell and Peterson. Both had great coaching under leaders such as Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin) and Tom O’Brien (BC). I don’t think there is dispute about Olson’s physical talent. Everyone here knows how he came out of high school as the most talented quarterback from Southern California since great John Elway. It is up to Dorrell to make sure he puts Olson in position to succeed and not waste the kind of talent at QB UCLA hasn’t had since the days of Aikman. Anyways, we have covered that topic ad nauseam already.

So let’s take the focus back on present and it sounds like SPJ is getting sharper:
The Bruin offense and especially quarterback Ben Olson looked sharp during practice on Wednesday, with passes completed to backs and receivers all over the field. The defense was worked hard in scout team drills and UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell noted that the practices are progressing well toward the BYU game with only a few injuries to report on.
Great to hear. Anyways, speaking of injuries, Rodney Van may not be ready for the BYU game. But there is no reason to worry, since ATV and Michael Norris are ready to step up. Here is an update from the OC Register.

The bottom line Bruins sound like they are looking good in practice. They sound relatively healthy. So there should be no reason for them to not dominate BYU on Saturday, giving those talk radio wackos in Provo more reasons to hate Olson. Sounds good to me.