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Eric Olsen: Olsen holds down offensive line as captain

Matt Gamber | Friday, November 20, 2009

As one of Notre Dame’s four co-captains — and as the “quarterback of the offensive line,” as Irish coach Charlie Weis put it — center Eric Olsen has been doing a lot of talking in his senior season.

Not that it’s a problem for the Staten Island, N.Y., native.

“I’m a New York guy and I’ve got a big mouth anyway,” Olsen said. “The position suits me, being able to make the calls for the offensive line. And as a captain, I’m a vocal guy on the team anyway. I’m not afraid to let my voice be heard, so it’s something I’ve excelled in.”

Olsen made the move from guard, where he had started 19 straight games entering the season — the last 13 on the left side, the first six on the right — over to center after the arrival of first-year offensive line coach Frank Verducci following the 2008 season.

“When he went through winter workouts, just watching him move and then looking at his body type, just in my eye, he looked like he had center qualities,” Verducci said. “One of the things we thought we could upgrade at the time was the push in the middle at the center position, and he’s done a nice job of that.”

Olsen said he embraced the position switch right away and enjoyed learning the intricate differences between guard and center. And the fact that Verducci, with eight years of NFL coaching experience, was there to guide him will only help Olsen as he prepares for a professional career.

“Someone with that kind of knowledge, I try to pick his brain all the time and use that as a tool for myself in a selfish way,” Olsen said. “To get his advice and use his experiences is definitely to my benefit.”

It also hasn’t hurt that his new role has allowed him — forced him, even — to keep on talking.

“I’ve really embraced it and tried to have as much fun as I can with it,” Olsen said. “I feel like I’ve been doing a solid job helping the other guys. It really fits my personality, being in the middle of all the action, making the calls.”

As a captain Olsen plays a similar role for the team as a whole. While he said he had been one of the team’s more vocal players in the past, serving as a captain has given a new perspective and a new set of responsibilities.

“I’ve got to keep my cool a lot more. I can’t let my emotions get the best of me in certain situations,” Olsen said. “I just have to see the big picture as a leader of the team and make sure I stay open-minded throughout the course of the game and in practice.”

The additional responsibilities bestowed upon Olsen this season are ones he’s proud to have earned — and that will keep him talking for some time.

“Being voted a captain at Notre Dame is something that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s something I’ll always be proud of and will tell my grandkids and so on,” Olsen said. “That responsibility is something I wanted to be put on my shoulders, and I embraced the role of being a captain. I’ve tried to have as much fun as I can with it.”

Weis said his team’s choice of Olsen as one of its four co-captains was one he supported, both because of the center’s role on the field and Olsen’s personality off of it.

“He’s a tough guy and people kind of gravitate to him,” Weis said. “I think that’s why the team voted him as one of the co-captains. He happens to be one of my personal favorites, too. A little of that Northeast bias.”

Olsen said the relationship with his head coach goes both ways. He initially took a liking to Weis, a New Jersey native, because of their similar backgrounds. But Olsen said he quickly got to know, and like, his coach for other reasons.

“We have real similar personalities in many ways, just our whole outlook on life,” Olsen said. “We kind of clicked over the past few years and obviously got a chance to get to know each other a lot better. Our relationship just grew from there.”

The same could be said for Olsen’s relationships with his fellow offensive linemen. A naturally tight-knit group, the fact that the offensive line includes fifth-year senior tackle Paul Duncan and three other seniors who regularly see playing time — tackle Sam Young and guards Chris Stewart and Dan Wenger — makes for a good time, Olsen said.

“We’ve got some real characters in our group. Everyone’s got their own personality and brings something different to the table,” Olsen said. “If you sit in on one of our meetings, we have a lot of fun.”

And that’s one place where Olsen certainly isn’t the only one doing the talking.

“Everyone’s pretty much a talker, but everyone can be quiet at times too,” Olsen said of his fellow linemen. “We’ve got really good personalities across the board. We have fun with each other and give each other a hard time, but we’re a really close-knit group.”

In some respect, Olsen said they have had to be over the last few years, during which the line shouldered some of the blame for an inconsistent offense.

“These guys work hard and have a lot of pride,” Olsen said. “We’ve taken the whippings around here for the last few years, but it hasn’t really stopped any of us from showing up to work every day and busting our butts.”

That hard work is gratified, Olsen said, when the line can partake in the successes of the offense as a whole. With stars like Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate, there have been plenty of spectacular plays to celebrate this season. But one that comes to mind for Olsen — and one that illustrates his role as one of Notre Dame’s most important leaders — doesn’t include either of those guys.

After Dayne Crist through his first career touchdown pass, a 64-yard strike during the 40-14 Irish win over Washington State, the sophomore quarterback looked almost too excited to celebrate — at least in the way Clausen does, by running over to Olsen, who lifts his quarterback toward the sky.

“When I was a freshman, I was running out there like that too, looking for something to do. It took the older guys to kind of reel me in,” said Olsen, who eventually found Crist and completed the touchdown celebration ritual. “It’s funny how things go full-circle and now I’m one of those guys. But being a veteran and being around here for so long, I know how things work and now it’s my turn to teach it to the younger guys.”

That is especially true this week, as Weis Tuesday told the media that he had informed his seniors that this was “your week.” Weis said he’d have his veterans address the team after each practice during the week, and there’s no doubt Olsen would be one of those guys.

“I think it’s a compliment to the seniors and the leaders on the team that he can trust putting it on our shoulders to lead the team this week,” Olsen said. “That’s what we have to do.”

With that in mind, Olsen said he thinks back to last year, and specifically, the week leading up to Notre Dame’s Senior Day game against Syracuse. That week, Olsen said, then-Irish tackle Mike Turkovich addressed all the offensive linemen and explained what playing for Notre Dame meant to him while offering advice to those who still had some time left to strap on that gold helmet.

“He still wishes he was part of the team now, and he’s still texting me like he is on the team,” Olsen said. “I can see how much guys like that do miss it. When you’re a senior and your time is winding down, it really starts to hit home.”

So what is that message that Olsen received last year and will pass on this week?

“Cherish it,” Olsen said. “Whether you’re a freshman or a senior walking out the door, you’re not going to have football forever. You’re not going to be at this place forever. Just cherish every moment. Injuries can happen any time and you never know what can happen in your football career. So just cherish every game, every practice, and make the most of every opportunity.”