Life is more than football for Ben Olson, former BYU and UCLA quarterback. It’s about picking yourself up and growing from the God-given challenges life gives us.
BYU football fans remember welcoming Olson as the ESPN-ranked No. 1 prospect for the 2002 recruiting season. However, since his departure from BYU in 2005, Cougar fans seemed to try to forget about Olson, to ignore thoughts of what could have been if he’d stayed. Olson shares his journey from his days as a record-breaking high school athlete and star collegiate quarterback, to his service as a dedicated missionary and now to his life as a successful business and family man.
“I signed with BYU the summer before my junior year in 2001,” Olson said. “Gary Crowton had just come to the program, and their offense was top in the nation. I was also really excited to attend a college where I wasn’t a minority in my values and standards.”
After redshirting his freshman year, Olson decided to temporarily leave behind a promising collegiate career to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Alberta, Canada, from 2003 to 2005.
“I remember when I was about 13 or 14, I made a promise to God that if he helped me to develop my talents and play football at a competitive level, that I would remain obedient and honor him in serving a mission,” Olson said. “I always believed that where much is given much is required, and with the aid of my patriarchal blessing and my testimony I knew I needed to go.”
Olson returned from his mission, and in early 2005 decided, amidst internal turmoil in the BYU football program, it would be best if he transferred schools. After dozens of recruiting trips he signed with UCLA during that same offseason and fought for the starting quarterback position.
Fellow Thousand Oaks High School graduate and current BYU junior Jacob Cusworth remembers watching Olson play.
“He was so fun to watch in high school,” Cusworth said. “He just dominated every night. And it was so fun to watch him play 40 minutes away from home at the Rose Bowl. I’ve been lucky to grow up as a BYU and UCLA football fan and see Ben play at both schools.”
Weeks before his first game, Olson broke his hand on his lineman’s helmet during a scrimmage and suffered a season-ending injury.
The following two seasons, coaches named Olson the starting quarterback and he played the first five games of each season, during which he threw for dozens of touchdowns and had an impressive winning record. He suffered another season-ending injury his sophomore year when a late hit sidelined him with a torn MC. Then, during his junior year, an awkward tackle tore the LCL in his knee and cut his season short yet again.
“You know, I’ve always known that everything God requires us to go through happens for a reason,” Olson said. “Luckily, I gained a real perspective out on my mission of what really mattered in this life, and that helped me to get through those disappointing injuries and setbacks.”
These trials were not only important learning experiences for Olson but also for his then soon-to-be wife, Andrea, who began dating Olson in the summer of 2006. She explained that as they both went through these trials and setbacks together, they became closer and their love grew stronger.
“It was really when he was injured and needed my support that Ben and I learned how much we really loved and cared for each other,” Andrea Olson said.
At the beginning of his junior season, Ben and Andrea Olson welcomed their newborn son, Cash. For the next couple of years, the Olsons would brave even more trials, but not without the support of each other and their families.
“We hated to see Ben constantly getting hurt on the football field, but through it all, he and Andrea kept such a positive attitude, and I really think those setbacks helped them become the hopeful and strong people they are today,” said Ben Olson’s younger sister, Diana.
“My senior year I broke my foot during the last day of spring camp. I broke it again twice throughout that season as I was pushing myself to play,” Ben Olson said. “After I graduated in 2008, the Philadelphia Eagles invited me to try out at their mini camp that they were hosting. Weeks before the camp I broke the same foot in the same place.”
After this injury, he decided it was time to move on from football. After a few jobs he settled in Utah Valley, where he and his wife started construction on their first home.
“As we were building our home, I was let go from my job,” Ben Olson said. “On top of that, Andrea had suffered through several miscarriages and we were having a hard time trying to have another baby.”
It was during this time, the Olsons said, that they relied heavily on each other’s strength. After finding a job in sales at a software company, Ben and Andrea Olson completed construction of their house and decided to try again for a baby.
In May of 2012, their daughter, Clara Michelle, was born and, due to complications, died within 24 hours of her birth. In a situation that no couple can sufficiently prepare for, the Olsons knew God had blessed them with strength above their own to get through this tragedy together.
“I really feel like the challenges I went through personally refined me and prepared me as much as anything could have for this devastating experience,” Ben Olson said. “I believe in the saying, ‘Just as gems cannot be polished without friction, neither can man be perfected without trials.’ I am grateful for the things the Lord has placed in our path to help us become stronger.”
Andrea Olson added that, “Through the setbacks of the past, we had to learn how to compartmentalize challenges and how to rely on each other and God to get through the day.”
Now, two years later, the Olsons are expecting twins and are grateful to have a great job and home in Lehi. They emphasized numerous times how their trials and reliance on God’s strength have helped to refine them and prepare them for life’s challenges.
“When bad things happen to you, you have to pick yourself up and get through it,” Ben Olson said. “Through my challenges and experiences in life, I’ve learned that there’s nothing more important than family, and I am so grateful for that perspective. No one exemplifies courage and resolve during challenges more than my wife. You can’t become bitter and callused when life gives you trials; you have to decide what will make you stronger and what will destroy you and then act.”