Walt Disney said, “All our dreams can come true — if we have the courage to pursue them.”
As far as Ammon Olsen is concerned, Walt was wrong.
Olsen’s dream was to be a star quarterback at BYU. From a young age, he dreamed it. He worked for it. He believed it. He never achieved it. Courage can take a hike. A coaching decision got in his way.
As the Cougars have progressed through the first weeks of spring practices, questions have swirled around the unthinkable: What happens if Taysom Hill gets hurt? The quarterback who would have stepped in for him, Hill’s backup last season, now plays some 200 miles south of Provo, at Southern Utah. Olsen, who will be entering his junior season, didn’t want his dream to pivot on a teammate getting injured, so he altered his destination and his dream.
“If I don’t play at the next level,” he says, “I only have two years left to play football. They’ll be gone in the snap of a finger.”
And so, Olsen was gone, too. Gone back to the place where his college football career started. He reflects on his decision to leave Cedar City to give his dream a shot and then boomeranging back, saying: “Most guys would rather play than sit. I was not OK with just sitting. That’s how football players are. They’re competitive. SUU is a great program. It’s smaller than BYU, but they have good coaches here.”
They also have a potential opening at quarterback.
Olsen thought the same opening existed at BYU, but despite a strong performance last spring, during which he showed himself to be the best passer among the Cougar candidates, Hill was named the starter. Olsen understood the reasoning behind the decision — “Taysom is an incredible athlete who makes plays with his feet,” he says — and Olsen doesn’t feel as though his dream of being the starter was hijacked by a maniacal renegade coach. He’s not whiny, angry or bitter. Let’s put it like this: A certain offensive coordinator wasn’t the most consistent in his communication with the quarterback. He was tough to read. Olsen says only this about that: “I just didn’t fit in Coach [Robert] Anae’s system.”
He’s tempted to say more, but declines.
When LaVell Edwards was the coach at BYU, could anyone have imagined the program’s best passer being nailed to the bench?
Sometimes, circumstances send those dreams packing.
Let’s back up and get a fresh start at Olsen’s journey.
He grew up in Draper, and played quarterback at Alta High School. He wasn’t heavily recruited, but was contacted by schools such as Stanford and Colorado State. His best scholarship offer, though, came from SUU. He committed and played a bit for the Thunderbirds as a freshman before leaving on an LDS Church mission in December 2009. Olsen says BYU offered him the scholarship he had long coveted “halfway through my mission. I wasn’t really involved, my parents did most of it. I was in Mexico City.”
Olsen redshirted in 2012, running the scout team. After that season, nearly the entire offensive staff was changed, and the sophomore believed he had a “good opportunity” to start. Olsen distinguished himself via his arm, but after spring drills, Hill got the nod.
“I was kind of upset,” he says. “I played well. But Taysom did, too. My strength was passing. Taysom’s strength was running. He could make up for plays when he was pressured. I thought if I were in, I’d pass first. I was a pocket passer. It was weird. I’d always grown up with BYU being pass, pass, pass.”
Anae had a different idea.
So Olsen sat. He didn’t complain, being thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to his dream. But he wondered what might have happened had he been on the field. “Would the outcomes have been different?” he asks. “Better or worse? I don’t know.”
What he does know is he didn’t want to spend his time living in a negative fog, waiting and hoping for his teammate to blow a knee. When the season ended, he talked it over with his parents and his wife, and decided to go back where he started.
“I asked Coach [Bronco] Mendenhall if I could contact SUU,” Olsen says. “When they told me they were interested, I went. Coach told me he understood my wanting to play. He told me he thought I was good enough to play. He understood my desire. He said he’d support me and release me and wish me the best.”
The quarterback, then, has dumped his old dream and moved on to another. He’s happy at SUU, where spring ball is about to start. He likes the coaches, including new OC Gary Crowton. He likes his teammates. He likes the opportunity in front of him. Nobody’s giving him anything, but nobody’s taking anything away, either.
“Ever since I’ve been back here,” he says, “it’s a feeling like, I never should have left.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.