The football was in the air and there was Chad Olsen, the Fresno State freshman tight end, running wide open across the middle of the field, left hash to right. He had waved an arm to get the attention of quarterback Brian Burrell, but didn’t think he had him, then knew he did, and the football, it was headed right to him.
“I was freaking out,” he said. “You know, whenever you’re that far down field and the ball is that high in the air for that amount of time, it just feels like an eternity before it finally gets to you.”
Olsen, with all of one catch in his college career and playing his first extended reps in a game, had more than enough time to wonder and worry whether there was a defender behind him or out of view and closing fast and of course, “Oh, man, what if I drop it? I really have to catch that ball …”
He did. “It just fell right in my hands. That was nice.”
Olsen and the Bulldogs had a 29-yard touchdown and he ended up with three more receptions in that overtime loss at UNLV including another touchdown, a 4-yard pass from Burrell in the fourth quarter. Much more than Olsen had expected from his first season of college football.
“To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be playing,” he said. “I thought I was going to be a redshirt, but they called my number so I’m just going to do everything they ask me to. That’s my role.”
Olsen is well past redshirting now and his role could be expanding with the Bulldogs in a season-long search for playmakers to generate production and points.
“He has been making progress each week and last week, the game was not too big for him,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “A lot of times, guys in there for the first time, they get nervous and you can see the look on their face and you know, ‘Hey, the guy is probably not ready’ but you have to go with him. He never had that look. He was just excited to go block people. He was excited to catch the ball.”
Olsen became the first Fresno State tight end to catch four passes in a game since Isaac Kinter in 2009 against Cincinnati and just the second true freshman nationwide this season to catch two touchdown passes in a game, joining Syracuse wideout Steve Ishmael. The two touchdown receptions also marked the sixth time over the past 12 seasons that a Fresno State tight end had two or more in a game — Marcel Jensen did it in 2013 at Wyoming and 2012 against Air Force; and Bear Pascoe had two at Louisiana Tech in 2008, three at Texas A&M in 2007 and two in 2006 against Hawaii.
But Olsen, who prepped at Pleasant Valley High in Chico, knows he doesn’t have this whole college football deal figured out.
“I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to college. You know, you hear, ‘It’s crazy. It’s insane.’ And it was, which wasn’t too surprising,” he said. “But it really did catch me off guard so I really had to keep my priorities straight and stay focused; countless hours looking at the playbook, all the hours we spend training out here. Those are ways that I really had to go about being sure that I could compete.
“It has really been an ongoing process from the day I got here, over the summer before we got into camp, just being able to physically match up with these guys and then once we got into camp being mentally able to match up with these guys. It has really been an ongoing process and I see it continuing to be an ongoing process probably for the rest of the time I’m going to be here.”
After practice Thursday, he was out running a few extra routes with Burrell.
“When we signed him we thought, ‘Hey, we got a really good one,’ but I honestly thought it would be a year or two, let him get a little bigger, but the kid is just a tough kid and grasps what we’re doing,” said Phil Earley, who coaches the Bulldogs’ inside receivers and tight ends.
“Just like a freshman, there are some subtleties that he’s still working on, but the thing about it is he works on it. He wants to meet all the time and make sure he knows it. Now, before we go crazy, let’s put it in perspective. It’s one game. But he’s going to have some good things happen for him in the future just because of the way he works at things and the ability he has. We just have to make sure he gets better every week and he just needs to keep getting better like he has been every practice.”