He first picked up football last year. After flipping from Utah to BYU, could tight end Anthony Olsen be a steal for the Cougars?


Editor’s observe • This story is accessible to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers solely. Thanks for supporting native journalism.

Melissa Olsen sat in her bed room because the clock ticked previous 11 p.m. Her husband, Corbin, and her son, Anthony, had been sitting within the room subsequent to her, speaking in regards to the prospects of Anthony signing along with his dream faculty, the College of Utah, the subsequent morning.

Because the dialog waned, Melissa felt her eyes glaze over. However simply earlier than she drifted off, she obtained a textual content from an unknown quantity. She vaguely acknowledged the title within the message. However she Googled it simply to make sure.

“Who’s Kalani Sitake?”

Minutes later, BYU’s head soccer coach was on speakerphone within the bed room, pleading his case as to why Anthony ought to flip his dedication within the eleventh hour. He went by an entire host of causes, none larger than BYU needing a decent finish instantly. Utah, however, had a surplus on the place simply within the incoming recruiting class.

Because the time crept up on midnight, Sitake ended his last-gasp effort with this: “It’s good to be wished, isn’t it?” he informed the 17-year-old. “Savor this.”

And as unlikely as this scene was, it labored. Olsen de-committed from Utah the subsequent day. By Thursday afternoon, he wrote on Twitter he was dedicated to BYU. There was no scholarship concerned. As an alternative, he ditched the varsity he was a lifelong fan of to wager on a most popular walk-on spot in Provo.

“I actually didn’t see this one coming,” stated Olsen, who known as Utah his “dream faculty” in an interview 48 hours earlier.

Olsen’s last-ditch recruitment and de-commitment isn’t completely stunning. He would have been a most popular walk-on at Utah, whereas there’s a chance he might be on scholarship sooner relatively than later in Provo. And for Olsen, it’s really fairly becoming given the context of the uncooked however gifted prospect’s final 12 months.

At the moment final 12 months, Olsen had by no means performed a snap of soccer. He knew of BYU, however hadn’t thought-about going. He was a Utah fan by and thru. And his relationship with the college was made extra advanced by his household historical past with the soccer program. It dated again to his grandfather, one of many first Black soccer gamers in BYU historical past.

If anybody requested if Olsen can be taking part in tight finish at BYU in 2021, the reply would have been a powerful no.

‘Caught me off guard’

The whispers round Olympus Excessive College began within the midst of basketball season final 12 months. Olympus head soccer coach Aaron Whitehead heard {that a} 6-foot-4 middle was contemplating choosing up soccer within the fall. He didn’t know if he believed it. He didn’t know if it might work. However he went out to a basketball sport anyway.

Sitting on the scorer’s desk, Whitehead couldn’t take his eyes off Olsen. He was skinnier again then, however fought for rebounds and seemingly got here up for each free ball.

“A person amongst boys actually,” stated Whitehead, who began inviting his assistants to video games.

Quickly after, Whitehead heard straight from Melissa the rumors had been true. In the identical dialog, Olsen’s mom introduced a complete plan for her son that may assist him turn into football-ready within the span of six months.

She had reached out to Anton Palepoi, a former NFL participant and Hunter Excessive College graduate, to assist Olsen practice. She didn’t know Palepoi, however the two made a connection by a neighborhood hairdresser. Anthony wished to achieve 30 kilos by the point he performed soccer. Perhaps Palepoi might assist him get there.

The opposite main concern was Olsen giving up basketball. If soccer didn’t work out, Melissa didn’t need her son to stop a sport the place he had an opportunity to play Division I. So, if Olsen was going to play soccer, he needed to go all-in.

“It caught me off guard at first after I heard he wished to play soccer,” Palepoi stated, realizing he was going into his senior season. “But it surely grew to become full-time coaching. He wished it that unhealthy.”

By the point summer time hit, Olsen gave up AAU basketball. Palepoi would drive to his home for a exercise at 7 a.m. They’d do agility coaching on basketball courts adopted by a raise. By 3 p.m. Olsen would usually drive out to Skyridge to work out once more with a bigger group. On the finish of the evening, Olsen would raise as soon as extra. He went from 185 kilos to almost 230 in a six-month span.

The one a part of the plan that didn’t work was the place. Whitehead initially considered Olsen as a defensive lineman. However in his second soccer exercise, Palepoi’s seventh-grade son performed catch with Olsen. He caught the ball with ease. From then on, he performed tight finish.

“I’ve been doing this a really very long time, over 25 years being an assistant and head coach,” Whitehead stated. “I’ve by no means skilled this. By way of simply pure expertise. I’m pinching myself.”

The backstory

In fact, the pure query for Olsen is why he hadn’t picked up soccer sooner. His senior season produced 514 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns. He picked up practically a half-a-dozen provides in six months.

And the reply has every thing to do along with his grandfather: Bennie Smith.

Smith was one of many first Black faculty soccer gamers at BYU within the Seventies. He ended up within the NFL and had a trailblazing profession.

However the toll {of professional} soccer hit arduous for Smith. He had accidents and well being issues. His psychological state, later in life, deteriorated. It grew to become tough for the household. Melissa didn’t need her son to play soccer or go down that path.

“My mother by no means informed me a lot about my grandpa,” Olsen stated. “Simply because it’s a [difficult] topic.”

Bennie Smith is Olsen’s grandfather who performed at BYU from 1971-72. He was one of many first Black soccer gamers to play on the college.

So Olsen grew up round basketball. He grew to become a Utah fan like his father. Melissa went to BYU, even getting her campus tour from her father’s head coach, LaVell Edwards. However the household cheered for the Utes. One 12 months, Olsen went to BYU basketball summer time camp. Through the week, he was the one child carrying a Utah shirt.

By the point he hit highschool, folks began to ask Olsen if, at his dimension, he performed soccer. He’s 5 inches taller than Smith and a bit thicker. However Melissa had reservations. It wasn’t till final spring — on the situation that Olsen would achieve weight — she agreed.

“I had come round to it,” Melissa stated. “Simply watching him play basketball, he is among the greatest and most bodily youngsters on the court docket. That was my reference. I didn’t suppose any of the [offers] would occur. I simply wished him to expertise the friendship in soccer.”

Trying forward

When Olsen informed his father that Sitake’s last-second pitch labored, there was an preliminary disappointment. Utah was Corbin’s faculty, nevertheless it had additionally turn into his son’s. In spite of everything, one in every of Olsen’s babysitters rising up had been Nate Orchard — a Utah soccer legend who now performs within the NFL.

“I feel he’s nonetheless grieving a bit,” Melissa joked.

Anthony Olsen known as Utah his “dream faculty” 48 hours earlier than he flipped his dedication to BYU.

However the disappointment has given solution to pleasure for each Corbin and Melissa. Their son has accomplished an unbelievable transformation and can play Division I soccer 13 months after his first soccer sport. He might even vie for a beginning place in his freshman 12 months. After 2022, he hopes to be on scholarship. None of that may have been possible at Utah.

Olsen will even be following in his grandfather’s footsteps, a prospect no one thought was within the playing cards.

And thru all of it, they’ll have a basic recruiting story to inform. A flipped dedication within the eleventh hour.

“It’s form of cool [my story],” Olsen stated. “My household is tremendous proud. It’s particular.”