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

The Olympus High recruit had dreams of being a Ute but changed his mind.

(Melissa Olsen) Anthony Olsen.

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Melissa Olsen sat in her bedroom as the clock ticked past 11 p.m. Her husband, Corbin, and her son, Anthony, were sitting in the room next to her, talking about the prospects of Anthony signing with his dream school, the University of Utah, the next morning.

As the conversation waned, Melissa felt her eyes glaze over. But just before she drifted off, she received a text from an unknown number. She vaguely recognized the name in the message. But she Googled it just to be sure.

“Who is Kalani Sitake?”

Minutes later, BYU’s head football coach was on speakerphone in the bedroom, pleading his case as to why Anthony should flip his commitment in the eleventh hour. He went through a whole host of reasons, none bigger than BYU needing a tight end immediately. Utah, on the other hand, had a surplus at the position just in the incoming recruiting class.

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

And as unlikely as this scene was, it worked. Olsen de-committed from Utah the next day. By Thursday afternoon, he wrote on Twitter he was committed to BYU. There was no scholarship involved. Instead, he ditched the school he was a lifelong fan of to bet on a preferred walk-on spot in Provo.

“I truly did not see this one coming,” said Olsen, who called Utah his “dream school” in an interview 48 hours earlier.

Olsen’s last-ditch recruitment and de-commitment isn’t entirely shocking. He would have been a preferred walk-on at Utah, while there is a likelihood he will be on scholarship sooner rather than later in Provo. And for Olsen, it is actually quite fitting given the context of the raw but talented prospect’s last 12 months.

At this time last year, Olsen had never played a snap of football. He knew of BYU, but hadn’t considered going. He was a Utah fan through and through. And his relationship with the university was made more complex by his family history with the football program. It dated back to his grandfather, one of the first Black football players in BYU history.

If anyone asked if Olsen would be playing tight end at BYU in 2021, the answer would have been a resounding no.

‘Caught me off guard’

The whispers around Olympus High School started in the midst of basketball season last year. Olympus head football coach Aaron Whitehead heard that a 6-foot-4 center was considering picking up football in the fall. He didn’t know if he believed it. He didn’t know if it would work. But he went out to a basketball game anyway.

Sitting at the scorer’s table, Whitehead couldn’t take his eyes off Olsen. He was skinnier back then, but fought for rebounds and seemingly came up for every loose ball.

“A man amongst boys really,” said Whitehead, who started inviting his assistants to games.

Soon after, Whitehead heard directly from Melissa the rumors were true. In the same conversation, Olsen’s mother presented an entire plan for her son that would help him become football-ready in the span of six months.

She had reached out to Anton Palepoi, a former NFL player and Hunter High School graduate, to help Olsen train. She didn’t know Palepoi, but the two made a connection through a local hairdresser. Anthony wanted to gain 30 pounds by the time he played football. Maybe Palepoi could help him get there.

The other major concern was Olsen giving up basketball. If football didn’t work out, Melissa didn’t want her son to quit a sport where he had a chance to play Division I. So, if Olsen was going to play football, he had to go all-in.

“It caught me off guard at first when I heard he wanted to play football,” Palepoi said, knowing he was going into his senior season. “But it became full-time training. He wanted it that bad.”

By the time summer hit, Olsen gave up AAU basketball. Palepoi would drive to his house for a workout at 7 a.m. They would do agility training on basketball courts followed by a lift. By 3 p.m. Olsen would often drive out to Skyridge to work out again with a larger group. At the end of the night, Olsen would lift once more. He went from 185 pounds to nearly 230 in a six-month span.

The only part of the plan that didn’t work was the position. Whitehead originally thought of Olsen as a defensive lineman. But in his second football workout, Palepoi’s seventh-grade son played catch with Olsen. He caught the ball with ease. From then on, he played tight end.

“I’ve been doing this a very long time, over 25 years being an assistant and head coach,” Whitehead said. “I’ve never experienced this. In terms of just pure talent. I’m pinching myself.”

The backstory

Of course, the natural question for Olsen is why he hadn’t picked up football sooner. His senior season produced 514 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He picked up nearly a half-a-dozen offers in six months.

And the answer has everything to do with his grandfather: Bennie Smith.

Smith was one of the first Black college football players at BYU in the 1970s. He ended up in the NFL and had a trailblazing career.

But the toll of professional football hit hard for Smith. He had injuries and health problems. His mental state, later in life, deteriorated. It became difficult for the family. Melissa did not want her son to play football or go down that path.

“My mom never told me much about my grandpa,” Olsen said. “Just because it is a [difficult] subject.”

Bennie Smith is Olsen's grandfather who played at BYU from 1971-72. He was one of the first Black football players to play at the university.

So Olsen grew up around basketball. He became a Utah fan like his father. Melissa went to BYU, even getting her campus tour from her father’s head coach, LaVell Edwards. But the family cheered for the Utes. One year, Olsen went to BYU basketball summer camp. During the week, he was the only kid wearing a Utah shirt.

By the time he hit high school, people started to ask Olsen if, at his size, he played football. He is 5 inches taller than Smith and a bit thicker. But Melissa had reservations. It wasn’t until last spring — on the condition that Olsen would gain weight — she agreed.

“I had come around to it,” Melissa said. “Just watching him play basketball, he is one of the biggest and most physical kids on the court. That was my reference. I didn’t think any of the [offers] would happen. I just wanted him to experience the friendship in football.”

Looking ahead

When Olsen told his father that Sitake’s last-second pitch worked, there was an initial disappointment. Utah was Corbin’s school, but it had also become his son’s. After all, one of Olsen’s babysitters growing up had been Nate Orchard — a Utah football legend who now plays in the NFL.

“I think he is still grieving a bit,” Melissa joked.

Anthony Olsen called Utah his "dream school" 48 hours before he flipped his commitment to BYU.

But the disappointment has given way to excitement for both Corbin and Melissa. Their son has completed an improbable transformation and will play Division I football 13 months after his first football game. He could even vie for a starting position in his freshman year. After 2022, he hopes to be on scholarship. None of that would have been likely at Utah.

Olsen will also be following in his grandfather’s footsteps, a prospect nobody thought was in the cards.

And through it all, they will have a classic recruiting story to tell. A flipped commitment in the eleventh hour.

“It is kind of cool [my story],” Olsen said. “My family is super proud. It’s special.”