Reusse: Grant Olson engineers helmet-busting career at NDSU

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2012 - 7:16 AM

Told he wasn't tall enough to merit a scholarship with the Gophers, the Wayzata alum has piled up tackles for the champion Bison instead.

North Dakota State's Grant Olson has constantly thrown his head and shoulders into the fray.

Photo: Provided By Ndsu, Provided by North Dakota State

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There are 600 schools that participate in the NCAA's four divisions of football. Last Saturday, middle linebacker Grant Olson was credited with being in on more tackles for North Dakota State than any player in any game played by those 600 teams this season.

The occasion for Olson's 29 tackles was auspicious, for it came in NDSU's defensive struggle against Wofford in the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA (or FCS) playoffs.

The Bison survived 14-7 and will continue to defend their national championship Friday night against Georgia Southern in the Fargodome. Once again, Olson will be required to throw his head and shoulders into the fray constantly, since Georgia Southern -- as did Wofford -- runs a triple-option offense.

The official tackle count on Saturday for Wayzata High School's Olson was six solos and 23 assisted. How does a player's body react after a day of so many collisions?

"It was the worst I've ever felt after a football game," Olson said. "You're going to be sore in the shoulders and neck, but the real misery was with my knees. There were some hits on the knees that I was still feeling a couple of days later."

NDSU went through a 10-1 regular season and an opening playoff victory without facing an option offense. Now, the Bison must survive a second such attack in a period of six days in order to return to Frisco, Texas, for the Jan. 5 title game.

"The Georgia Southern offensive linemen aren't quite as big as Wofford, but the skill position players are excellent," Olson said. "They aren't going to throw the ball much. They are going to come at us with the option. We're going to have to make our reads and not miss tackles."

Olson was so determined in this area last weekend that he busted a helmet in the process. He didn't miss a play -- borrowing a helmet until his was fixed.

"I knew he had a lot of tackles," NDSU coach Craig Bohl said after the Wofford victory. "... I know he's tired and beat up. He's a smart, resourceful football player."

The smart and resourceful part would seem to be a family trait. His father, Lee, is a West Point graduate and has had a career as a mechanical engineer at Alliant Techsystems, the aerospace and munitions spinoff from Honeywell.

Olson's mother, Betty, also worked as an engineer at Alliant. And his sibling, Luke, is a recent mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Minnesota.

Take a wild guess at Grant's major?

"Industrial engineering," he said. "It's a family tradition."

The other tradition that Olson is upholding is one that has made Wayzata into Linebacker High when it comes to the football powers in the Twin Cities.

"I would say our run at linebacker starts with James Laurinaitis [2002-04]," Wayzata coach Brad Anderson said. "Then it was Tommy Becker, Jeff Schuette, Grant Olson and A.J. Tarpley as teammates and now Chris Wipson, who is going to play for the Gophers."

Tarpley and Olson were linebackers on the Wayzata state champs in 2008 and teamed again in 2009. Tarpley was recruited by BCS teams and is a standout outside linebacker for Rose Bowl-bound Stanford. Olson was offered "preferred walk-on" status by the Gophers.

"They told me I was not tall enough to earn a scholarship as a middle linebacker," said Olson, listed at 6 feet.

NDSU has feasted during its current run of greatness with Twin Cities-area standouts that were not offered scholarships by Tim Brewster's program. Left tackle Billy Turner played at Mounds View and cornerback Marcus Williams at Hopkins. They are juniors and NFL prospects.

The greatest day of football for the Twin Cites expats was Jan. 7, 2012, when the Bison upset Sam Houston State 17-6 to win the Division I-AA title. The second was the 37-24 drubbing of the Gophers on Sept. 24, 2011, in TCF Bank Stadium.

"Most of our Minnesota guys grew up wanting to play for the Gophers," Olson said. "I still have a paper that I wrote in the fifth grade with the topic, 'My goal is to play football for the Gophers.'

"So for all of us who were told we weren't good enough to play for the Gophers, going back to Minneapolis and beating them meant a lot."

Olson admitted that the new coach, Jerry Kill, is working harder to limit players' access to the I-94 route from the Twin Cities to Fargo. One person trying to help with this is Grant's older brother, now working for Gophers football staff.

"Jerry Kill wants to close the border, but this remains a great place to play," Olson said. "And for the Minnesotans on this team ... we'll always have the last laugh."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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