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Olson Is Big Man on Campus at UCLA

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

When Ben Olson checked into his UCLA dorm room several weeks ago, the person in charge was dumbfounded.

“You’re a freshman?” the dorm administrator asked.

Olson, 6 feet 5 and 230 pounds, is a freshman in name only. He’s a 21-year-old quarterback just back from a two-year Mormon mission in Canada, and he’s the kind of big-time recruit who can change a football program.

In the coming years, if Coach Karl Dorrell is successful at UCLA, everyone will look back on Olson’s arrival as a turning point in the Bruins’ program.

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Dorrell knew how important Olson might be, personally taking charge of his recruitment last June when colleges could start contacting him after he’d severed ties with his old school, Brigham Young.

Dorrell immediately called Olson’s father, Rick, at his home in Thousand Oaks, then started e-mailing Olson in Canada.

Olson had turned down UCLA in 2001 when he was a high school All-American at Thousand Oaks. This time, he opened the recruiting window to all schools, from South Carolina to Miami to Louisiana State.

Dorrell, though, succeeded in wooing Olson to Westwood.

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“Probably the thing Dorrell did better than anyone else was letting Ben know how important he was to the future of the program,” Rick said.

Olson said he’d told recruiters, “Tell me how it is, not what I want to hear,” and that’s what attracted him to Dorrell.

“He’s first class,” Olson said. “He’s very honest in everything he does, and it’s all you can ask. I want to play for him.”

And so Olson will be the marquee name atop UCLA’s recruiting list when high school seniors sign letters of intent Wednesday.

Since he enrolled this month, Olson is attending classes and preparing for spring practice, which begins Feb. 21.

He hasn’t played in a football game since a high school all-star game in 2002, but Olson’s maturity and talent are respected.

He’s stronger now, even though he didn’t lift weights while away from school. And he should be faster, once he gets into shape. He once ran a 4.5 40-yard dash in high school.

“I’ll be rusty at first, but it’s like riding a bike,” he said. “You never forget how to do it.”

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Olson could do for Dorrell what defensive lineman Shaun Cody did for Pete Carroll at USC. Cody was the first top recruit Carroll persuaded to join him in 2001, coming out of Hacienda Heights Los Altos. Once Cody decided, a stampede of talent followed.

No matter what the recruiting experts say about UCLA’s other recruits, Olson is the player Dorrell had to get. Olson came from a high school program polished in the passing game, and he has strong leadership skills. He was the best dunker on his basketball team, showing his athleticism.

He should fit in perfectly with the Bruins’ West Coast offense because one of his strengths is knowing how to distribute passes to the right receivers.

“If you build it, they will come,” Olson said of the Bruins’ program. “That’s what I see happening.”

Among UCLA’s other commitments, offensive lineman Aleksey Lanis of Crenshaw distinguished himself in the CaliFlorida Bowl and made the Parade magazine All-American team, and safety Shawn Oatis of Chino is the kind of hard-hitting tackler the Bruin defense needs.

UCLA also could pull off a surprise if it picks up tight end Charles Brown of Diamond Ranch. He earlier committed to USC.

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As for USC, the recruiting class it expects to sign continues a trend: The Trojans choose from the best and get almost anyone they want, particularly in Southern California.

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Quarterback Mark Sanchez of Mission Viejo should compete to be Matt Leinart’s successor next spring. He was the Parade magazine player of the year.

The Trojans couldn’t have done a better job in recruiting defensive backs. Kevin Thomas of Oxnard Rio Mesa, Michael Coleman of San Bernardino Arroyo Valley and Will Harris of Covina Charter Oak should contend for immediate playing time.

The Trojans’ most pressing recruiting need was at linebacker, and they could come away with three Parade All-Americans. Rey Maualuga of Eureka has committed, and Luthur Brown of Lakewood and Brian Cushing of Bergen Catholic in Oradell, N.J., could join him.

Patrick Turner, a 6-5 receiver from Nashville, was rated No. 1 at his position by at least one recruiting service. Long Beach Poly’s DeSean Jackson, the No. 1 prep receiver in Southern California, figures to join him Wednesday.

And, in a display of USC dominance, linebacker Kaluka Maiava of Wailuku, Hawaii, who’d originally committed to UCLA, switched to USC when the Trojans decided they wanted him.

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Latest Recruits

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Here are the commitments for USC and UCLA, which can sign players on Wednesday to letters of intent:

*--* USC Pos Player Ht Wt Last School DB Michael Coleman 6-1 220 Arroyo Valley DB Kevin Thomas 6-0 180 Rio Mesa DB Will Harris 6-2 195 Charter Oak DT Gabe Long 6-3 275 Fullerton JC LB Rey Maualuga 6-2 235 Eureka LB Kevin Ellison 6-1 215 Redondo LB Kaluka Maiava 6-0 215 Wailuku (Hawaii) Baldwin DE Averell Spicer 6-2 265 Rancho Cucamonga OL Nick Howell 6-5 260 Fresno Bullard OL Kevin Myers 6-6 350 Compton JC QB Mark Sanchez 6-3 215 Mission Viejo WR Patrick Turner 6-5 210 Nashville Goodpasture K Troy Van Blarcom 6-3 200 Orange Lutheran UCLA Pos Player Ht Wt Last School DB Shawn Oatis 5-11 205 Chino DB Aaron Ware 6-1 192 Oaks Christian DB Bret Lockett 6-1 195 Diamond Bar DB Robert Kibble 5-10 175 Houston Westfield DE Chinonso Anyanwu 6-4 210 Crenshaw DT Jess Ward 6-4 260 Rim of the World DT Chase Moline 6-1 245 Mission Viejo LB Reggie Carter 6-2 220 Crenshaw LB John Hale 6-3 220 Los Alamitos LB Korey Miller 6-2 218 Plano (Texas) West LB Kyle Miller 6-2 215 Plano (Texas) West RB Kahlil Bell 5-11 205 Marin Catholic OL Aleksey Lanis 6-6 320 Crenshaw OL Justin Brown 6-6 270 LB Poly TE Adam Heater 6-5 245 Snohomish (Wash.) TE Logan Paulsen 6-5 225 Chaminade TE Ryan Moya 6-3 230 Oak Ridge WR Gavin Ketchum 6-4 190 Oak Park WR Jamil Turner 6-1 190 Spanaway (Wash.) Bethel QB Ben Olson 6-5 230 Thousand Oaks QB Osaar Rasshan 6-4 215 Garey

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