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Olson Looks to Make a Pass at Solid Return

Times Staff Writer

UCLA’s football season opener is nearly three months away and the Bruins’ first official practice isn’t until August, but Drew Olson is working with a sense of urgency.

Coming off a serious injury to his left knee, suffered in December during the Bruins’ 24-21 upset loss to Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl, Olson is determined to finish his college career on a positive.

“I don’t want any [Bruin player] to go through three years like I’ve been through,” said Olson, who is ahead of schedule in his recovery from surgery for torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. “It’s just been unacceptable.

“We’ve had a few good times but 6-7 and 6-6 in back-to-back seasons is nothing to go home bragging about.”

There was speculation shortly after Olson was injured that he might sit out the 2005 season, but he didn’t want to hear it.

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“From the start, I didn’t want to be around people talking about the injury,” he said. “I don’t need any pity from anyone.”

After his surgery, Olson became a regular at UCLA’s new 15,000-square-foot weight room, and in recent weeks he has been a leader during informal morning passing workouts at Spaulding Field, the team’s on-campus practice facility. He did not participate in spring practices in February, but he is now on schedule to be at full speed when the Bruins get back together in eight weeks.

“You want to be out there running and throwing at full speed on the field right away, but you can’t,” said Olson, who passed for 2,565 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. “Mentally, I had to go through baby steps with the injury. It was a big day when I first started to jog. It was a big day when I began to throw.

“Now, it’s about getting my game ready. I’m out throwing and running. Every day, I’m doing agility stuff. Everything has been going good. I need to just get my body ready to play.”

Olson began jogging two months after the surgery in January. He was running and cutting and performing cuts nearly two weeks later.

“By having the surgery early it gave Drew a shot in the arm because he immediately turned it into as much of a positive as possible,” said Olson’s father, David. “He went back to UCLA determined to work hard with his recovery.”

Olson is down about 10 pounds from last season’s playing weight of 222 and his throwing touch is slowly coming back.

“I feel like I could almost play a game now,” Olson said. “As long as I can drop back at full speed and make cuts, I can play. I’m excited where I am right now.”

Olson’s effectiveness will be key as to whether UCLA is considered a serious threat to unseat cross-town rival USC at the top of the Pacific 10 Conference. The Bruins are expected to be good -- they have 16 starters returning -- but it might be up to their senior quarterback as to how good.

“It’s been real encouraging to see him out there running with us,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “Everyone has such high hopes. To have him ready for the start of camp will be really big, not only for Drew but for the whole team. We need to have him out there competing with everyone.”

In 26 starts, Olson is fifth on UCLA’s all-time list with 5,334 yards passing and is fourth with 422 completions -- experience that Coach Karl Dorrell says puts Olson in “the best position” to be the starter when the Bruins open at San Diego State on Sept. 3.

“He missed spring because of injury, but he’s our incumbent,” Dorrell said. “That gives him a great advantage, but he must utilize that.”

Olson’s challengers are senior David Koral and redshirt freshmen Patrick Cowan and Ben Olson, a celebrated transfer from Brigham Young who is returning to football after a two-year Mormon mission. Ben Olson is not related to Drew.

Koral threw two touchdown passes after replacing Olson in the Las Vegas Bowl, and he worked with the first team throughout spring practice, giving him a step up in becoming more comfortable to Dorrell’s evolving West Coast offense.

“There’s a lot of speculation about who is going to be the guy, and Drew knows that,” Dorrell said. “He knows that there’s going to be a lot of competition at the position. The other guys see this as an opportunity to showcase themselves. That’s what competition is always about. Each and every year you have to prove yourself why you should be a starter.”

Olson is used to the drill. In 2002, he replaced an injured Cory Paus and started five games, becoming the first true freshman since Tom Ramsey in 1979 to win his first start on the road.

As a sophomore, Olson lost the starting job to Matt Moore during training camp but took over during the season and ended up starting nine games. Last year, Olson had his best season, but his 13 interceptions were a career high.

“Any time you have to come off injury like this, you have questions,” Olson said. “In my mind, I know that I’m going to be back and that I’m going to be better than last season, even with this injury.

“I always will have the attitude that this is my team. I will have that belief until I’ve [graduated] or someone starts over me.”

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Olson’s record

Drew Olson’s passing statistics at UCLA:

*--* Year Att Cmp Yds Int TD 2002 104 53 702 4 3 2003 325 173 2,067 9 10 2004 341 196 2,565 13 20 Tot. 770 422 5,334 26 33

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