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College football: Olson named UMD starting quarterback

Senior wins four-player battle to start under center for Bulldogs in Week 1.

Minnesota Duluth starting quarterback Garrett Olson (16) fires a pass in front of Bulldog head coach Curt Wiese, left, during practice
Minnesota Duluth starting quarterback Garrett Olson (16) fires a pass in front of Bulldogs head coach Curt Wiese, left, during practice at Malosky Stadium on Wednesday morning, Aug. 24, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese always made a point to heap praise on quarterback Garrett Olson, that proverbial bridesmaid, runnerup, career clipboard holder, who always stayed upbeat and prepared for every game as if he was the starter but rarely got that opportunity.

That is, until now. Wiese is heaping praise on the senior once again, but this time, it’s for a different reason.

“We’re excited to announce Garrett Olson as our starting quarterback,” Wiese said before practice Wednesday. “Garrett has earned the spot. He’s a sixth-year guy coming back. He’s an experienced quarterback, and although he hasn’t started a lot of games for us, he has started a few. He’s been John Larson’s backup for the last four years and had a chance to learn under a very good quarterback.

“Now Garrett has an opportunity to come out from John (Larson)’s shadow and mold his own season.”

Olson will be under center when the Bulldogs open the season with an NSIC game against Southwest Minnesota State at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, at Malosky Stadium.

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It’s been a long time coming.

Olson, of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is a 2017 graduate of Minnetonka High School, where he was a two-year starter. He threw for 2,720 yards and 17 touchdowns in 18 starts and ran for another 956 yards and 12 touchdowns. He completed 232 of 365 passes, good for a 63.6 completion percentage.

After redshirting at UMD in 2017, he played sparingly the next fall as the fourth quarterback on UMD’s depth chart. After quarterback turnover and injuries, he appeared in eight games in 2019 and seven games last season, posting a career-high 692 passing yards and eight touchdowns.

Olson, 6-foot and 192 pounds, stuck it out through all the practices, stuck it out through all the offseasons, and stuck out through the 2020 COVID year when the Bulldogs didn’t even play.

Garrett Olson.jpg
Garrett Olson

It’s because he loves the game.

“It’s awesome to be back,” Olson said. “I’m thankful that we were able to be back here after COVID. We didn’t really know what would happen. Honestly, I’m just glad to be back and be with my teammates again, just to be able to go one last round with everyone and all the guys.”

Olson won a quarterback competition between sophomore Logan Graetz and redshirt freshmen Nate Elmes and Kyle Walljasper.

UMD had an incredible stretch of four-year starters at quarterback in Ted Schlafke, Chase Vogler and Drew Bauer, but the Bulldogs have found out the hard way in recent years that is the exception, not the rule.

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Wiese said whether Olson stays healthy or not they will likely use another quarterback.

“Our guys underneath Garrett will have an opportunity to learn from him for a year, but that’s not to say we won’t use another quarterback throughout the fall because we probably will,” Wiese said. “Garrett is a perfect example of staying with the program, understanding the system, being a good teammate and now it’s his opportunity to start and make an impact in our program in a different way.”

That start can’t come soon enough.

Olson was asked Wednesday if he wanted another week to prepare for Southwest Minnesota State.

“It’d be fun to kick off tonight,” he said, laughing.

SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA STATE AT MINNESOTA DULUTH 

What: College football season opener; NSIC contest
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1
Where: Malosky Stadium
2021 records: UMD 9-3, Southwest 2-9

News Tribune digital producer Dan Williamson contributed to this report.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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