UCLA’s quarterback competition officially came to an end Monday when Coach Karl Dorrell named Ben Olson the starter over fellow redshirt sophomore Patrick Cowan.
The decision did not come as a surprise to many.
“I was taking the mentality that I was the starter until I was told otherwise,” said Olson, 23, who transferred to UCLA last year after a two-year Mormon mission and a redshirt season at Brigham Young.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.... It was definitely a learning experience for me. You learn that things are not always going to go your way and you’re not going to get things just handed to you in life. I had to work for this. It’s something that I definitely appreciate.”
Dorrell said Cowan was unable to beat out Olson.
“Pat did a nice job in developing in picking up stuff and pushing [Olson], but it really came down that he didn’t overcome the situation,” Dorrell said. “When you’re a contender for a job, you have to play well above what the other guy is doing.”
Cowan, who did not attempt a pass last season, said, “I gave it my best and Ben won the competition. I did all I could. I came focused every day ready to play and what happened, happened.... All I can do now is prepare myself in case I’m called upon.”
Dorrell said the Bruins needed to name a starter in order to give that quarterback enough time to prepare for the season opener against Utah on Sept. 2.
Olson, who lost out to unrelated Drew Olson in training camp last year, now has to regroup after competing with Cowan throughout training camp and spring drills.
“You have to be a confident player no matter what happens to you,” Olson said. “There’s going to be rough times, and the last two weeks were not the most enjoyable two weeks of my life.”
Now it’s all about Utah for Olson, who completed two of four passes for 11 yards last season.
“You definitely have a different feeling, knowing that you are the guy,” said Olson, who will start his first game since his senior season at Thousand Oaks High in 2001.
Injuries to junior cornerback Michael Norris (knee) and junior safety Matthew Slater (shoulder) paved the way for UCLA to shift freshman running backs Jeremy McGee and Christian Ramirez to the secondary.
“We’re really thin back there and both guys had played on the defensive side in high school,” Dorrell said.
“So for them, it’s really an easy transition to make.... We have very good secondary personnel, but we just don’t have a lot of depth there.”
With the uncertain status of Norris, Slater and sophomore safety Robert Kibble, who has multiple sclerosis, McGee and Ramirez worked out with the defense on Monday.
Ramirez said he wasn’t surprised by the switch.
“It had crossed my mind, definitely,” said Ramirez, who was considered one of the top recruits at safety on the West Coast last year at Imperial High. “I had been watching everyone on defense going down and I knew that it was coming.”
Ramirez will play free safety behind junior Dennis Keyes and redshirt freshman Aaron Ware. McGee, who ran for a touchdown in Saturday’s scrimmage, worked with the third team defense at cornerback on Monday.
“I am switching sides to basically help the team,” said McGee, adding that Dorrell and running backs coach Dino Babers “came to me and told me that it would be my decision to come back [to running back] if I wanted to, but right now ... I’m focused on cornerback.”
Other injury updates: Backup running back Derrick Williams suffered a hamstring injury in the morning workout and did not practice in the afternoon; wide receivers Marcus Everett (hamstring) and Gavin Ketchum (quadriceps) and defensive tackle Kevin Brown (ankle) did limited work in both practices.