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This Mission Is Clear for UCLA Quarterback

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

Got my first look at Ben Olson, without question UCLA’s starting quarterback this season although the Bruins have yet to announce it officially, and he was telling me about his two years as a missionary, people cussing him out and one guy threatening to shoot him.

“So you ran into Kevin Brown,” I said, and who knew we had so much in common?

“I also had someone throw a cup of water and hit me,” he said, and I thought about mentioning the time Jim McMahon blew his nose on me, but it’s probably not a good idea to give a young quarterback with some BYU in his background any ideas.

It was funny standing there at Drake Stadium after a two-hour UCLA scrimmage, listening to Olson recount his Mormon missionary experience and all the people who rejected him, while hundreds of Bruins fans stood in the sun waiting for his autograph and a chance to have a picture taken with him.

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“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Olson said. “Isn’t it crazy what sports does to people? I don’t understand why people treat me differently just because I’m a football player.”

He’s not only a football player, he’s UCLA’s great hope to put the Bruins atop the Pac-10 standings again, although Coach Karl Dorrell has some explaining to do.

For the last few weeks he has maintained the starting quarterback position is up for grabs between Olson and Patrick Cowan. It makes you wonder if Dorrell has his eyes open while watching practice.

Cowan might be a wonderful young man, maybe a Rhodes scholar or future contestant on “Big Brother,” but you put him on the same football field as Olson, and it’s a mismatch.

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Cowan labors when he throws, and that’s when he takes the time to throw instead of scrambling for the sideline. He also throws a pretty good knuckler, which is all right if you’re pitching, but not always effective when throwing to a group of inexperienced receivers, as he did in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Olson is left-handed, the first obvious difference, and wears No. 7, the number bringing to mind John Elway, and the not-so modest admission by Olson that a top recruiting service referred to him as “the left-handed John Elway” when he was rated the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of Thousand Oaks High.

Like Elway, Olson has the ability to sidestep the rush and deliver a deep ball. He might not be as fast as Elway -- “You’ll see,” disagreed Olson -- and he certainly doesn’t have the weight-room-carved body yet to survive the beating Elway took, but he’s just beginning his collegiate career. At age 23.

“I’m not as mature as everyone thinks,” he joked, but he already carries himself like a team leader and greets everyone as if he’s running for office.

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Now maybe it’s only rust, but if there’s a flaw, it appeared Olson was a little slow in his downfield decisions, making him a sack waiting to happen, but then most of the time the Bruins had him firing short, quick, crisp passes against an improved-looking defense.

He had a pass intercepted, apparently unable to cope with the Bruins’ old-time cheerleader, who took a microphone and urged “every man, woman and child” in the crowd to make noise while the offense ran a play. I’m with Olson if he would like to ban the old obnoxious guy from all UCLA games this season.

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I STOPPED by the campus bookstore before the scrimmage and bought a UCLA baseball cap, and when I ran into Dorrell, he insisted on having his picture taken with me. He was so giddy, I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was only $12.95, just in case Utah is really good in the season opener.

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I asked about the so-called quarterback controversy, and he explained he has been looking for separation, and finally got it for the first time in the scrimmage.

It was just a lot of blah, blah, blah to disguise the fact Dorrell wanted to keep Olson competitively challenged, stealing a page out of Pete Carroll’s coaching manual.

“I came back from my mission with the desire to be a good football player more so than when I left,” Olson said. “It was a great experience. I had to learn to keep my composure knocking on doors and getting rejected all the time. I was somewhat persecuted. ... “

Then he’ll feel right at home on Page 2 if I have to ditch the baseball cap at some point.

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STOPPED BY Angel Stadium and offered to keep suspended Manager Mike Scioscia company in his office. He declined, although he did give it some serious thought when I said I’d be willing to bring along some sausage sandwiches.

He said no, though, calling the clubhouse a sacred place, even though I’ve been the guy praying all year for the Angels to add one more bat to the lineup.

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JOHN LACKEY took a shot at his teammates, complaining after a loss in New York, “It would be nice if we could get out to a lead and hang on to [it].” Then the Angels went out Saturday night, gave him a 4-0 lead against Seattle and he blew it.

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KEVIN GREGG was suspended four games the other day for hitting one of the Rangers, and I was surprised the Angels didn’t appeal and ask Major League Baseball to make it eight games.

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TODAY’S LAST word comes in an AP story sent to me by more than 20 e-mailers.

“Authorities in Macon say a neighbor accused retired All-Star pitcher Kevin Brown of pulling a pistol during a dispute over yard debris.”

Given Brown’s accuracy, there was no danger.


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