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FOOTBALL: Bemidji State’s Gunner Olszewski signs 2-year, $4.2 million deal with Steelers

The former Bemidji State football star and NFL All-Pro returner agreed to a two-year, $4.2 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday, and the team officially announced the signing on Monday.

120920.S.BP.OLSZEWSKI3 Gunner Olszewski.JPG
New England Patriots wide receiver Gunner Olszewski scores on a 38-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 6, 2020, at SoFi Stadium.
Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports
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PITTSBURGH -- Gunner Olszewski is staying out east.

The former Bemidji State football star and NFL All-Pro returner agreed to a two-year, $4.2 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday, and the team officially announced the signing on Monday.

“I appreciate the opportunity I was given coming out of college,” said Olszewski, who spent his first three NFL seasons with the Patriots. “I think I took that opportunity and ran with it, playing the last three years (in New England). I’m a Pittsburgh Steeler now, and I’m really looking forward to this next chapter.”

Olszewski, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, became an unrestricted free agent when New England opted to not give him a tender offer on March 16. Olszewski went undrafted out of BSU but played his first three seasons in Foxborough.

“My agent called me when I was back home in Texas, and he told me, ‘Pittsburgh gave us a really good offer.’ I said, ‘Well, let’s go,’” Olszewski said. “It showed me that they have a lot of interest in me, and being here for two years, that means a lot for me. … Now that I got here, I got to meet everybody and talk to everybody. I’m real excited.”

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In 2020, Olszewski was named an All-Pro returner after leading the NFL with 346 punt return yards and 17.3 yards per punt return on 20 attempts. He had a league-high three returns of 40 yards or more that season and had one punt return for a touchdown.

As a wide receiver, Olszewski failed to carve out a consistent role in New England’s offense. In his three years, he had nine receptions on 12 targets, totaling 127 receiving yards (14.1 yards per catch) and one touchdown.

He had just two catches on three targets for 31 yards in 2021. He returned 26 punts for 309 yards (11.9 yards per return).

“We haven’t talked much about X’s and O’s,” Olszewski said of him and Pittsburgh. “I’m just looking forward to putting on the black and yellow and playing football, no matter where that’s at, whether it’s at receiver or just returning kicks. Whatever I can do to help this team win ball games.”

Olszewski has played with a mix of quarterbacks under center for the Patriots -- none more notable than Tom Brady in Olszewski’s rookie year. Longtime Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger retired after the 2021 season, and Pittsburgh recently signed Mitchell Trubisky to be the starting quarterback in 2022.

Olszewski is the third former BSU player to reach the NFL, and he’s already the longest-tenured Beaver in the league with 37 career games.

He famously switched from defensive back to wide receiver for New England, then cracked the roster against all odds as a rookie in 2019. He reflected on that transition with a classic “Gunner quote” -- sayings that made him a fan favorite in Foxborough.

“It’s a huge adjustment,” he said. “I figured it might be easy because I always said playing defensive back is the hardest position on the field. … But shoot, I learned real quick that receiver ain’t no walk in the park.”

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Unfortunately for Bemidji State fans hoping to catch Olszewski in action this year, the Steelers don’t play the Minnesota Vikings in 2022. The closest trip would be a hike to Indianapolis when Pittsburgh visits the Colts. Dates have not yet been released for each team’s schedule.

Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.
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