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UM's Olsen demands attention

Larry Coker is touting his tight end as one of the best, and the sophomore is backing it up.

By MICHAEL SNYDER
Published September 16, 2005


CORAL GABLES - Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr. ... Greg Olsen?

No, this isn't a game of "Which one's not like the others?"

Not if you listen to Miami coach Larry Coker who says Olsen, the sophomore who led the team with eight catches for 137 yards in Miami's 10-7 loss to Florida State on Sept. 5, belongs with the elite tight end trio now playing in the NFL.

"We've had great players at that position. Without question Greg Olsen is in that mold," Coker said as the No. 13 Hurricanes (0-1) prepared for a 3:30 p.m. game Saturday at No. 20 Clemson (2-0). Earlier this year, Coker called Olsen "the best tight end in America."

Considering the players who came before - and the fact the 6-foot-5, 252-pound Olsen had 16 catches for 275 yards and a touchdown last season - Coker's praise might appear misplaced. But remember what they say about appearances, and listen to his teammates.

"Now everybody in the country knows what kind of player he is," sophomore quarterback Kyle Wright said. "He creates a big mismatch with opposing linebackers. He just finds a way to get open."

Junior receiver Ryan Moore said, "He catches the ball like a receiver. He runs like a receiver. It's not unfair (he's that big and can run). We're just glad he's on our team."

The biggest thing that separates Olsen from his predecessors is that he is so quiet and unassuming. There is no trace of the theatrics or trash-talking that were a staple of UM's recent greats at the position. The closest he comes to bluster is when he says Miami should be known as "Tight End U" instead of "Quarterback U."

That he came through against FSU with the most productive game for a Miami tight end since 1986 and is already Wright's favorite target, probably shouldn't be a surprise. His father, Chris, is a high school coach and brother Christian is a backup quarterback at ACC rival Virginia. As a high school senior in 2002, Olsen was one of three finalists for the Gatorade National Player of the Year Award. The other two: Wright - who snagged the award - and Florida quarterback Chris Leak.

Olsen signed with Notre Dame, largely because that's where his brother had been, then transferred to Coral Gables.

"Christian picked the place that he wanted and I followed him," Olsen said. "Now I feel so lucky. I'm blessed the way things have worked out."

After sitting out in 2003, Olsen was second on the depth chart behind Kevin Everett then broke his left wrist in an upset loss Oct. 30 at North Carolina. Playing with a cast, Olsen was largely a nonfactor after the injury.

But Olsen was one of the best players in fall practice. And that carried over into the FSU game.

"There are a lot of expectations," Olsen said. "People put you on a high level that they want you to play at. When the game starts it's kind of out of your hands. You've just got to get into the rhythm of the game, and do everything in your power to help the team win. If that means catching 10 balls, catch 10 balls. If that means catching none and we win ... you can't control that kind of stuff. When you're called on to help the team, you've got to be there."

Olsen will be there Saturday as Miami tries to avoid its first 0-2 start since 1978. "Not playing (last Saturday) was hard," Olsen said of the off week. "We can't dwell on losing. It's time for Clemson. We need to be focused. ... Losing, it doesn't happen here. It's not accepted, That's just the way it is. Every time we take the field, we expect to win."

Having Olsen certainly helps Wright and the rest of Miami's skill players. Like his predecessors, he demands attention, the kind that can open the field up to the 'Canes speedy receivers and tailback Tyrone Moss.

"He's going to be one of the best tight ends to ever play here," Wright said. "He'll definitely be a great target for me. Like I said (before the FSU game), I'll go to him in crucial situations."