DETROIT -- On its own, Gunner Olszewski’s NFL debut was a monumental achievement.
The undrafted Division II product gave the defending Super Bowl champs 54 all-purpose yards between three punt returns, a reception and a rush during New England’s 31-3 preseason win at Detroit on Thursday. He also invigorated Bemidji State football backers simply by putting on his own Patriots uniform.
But Olszewski’s end goal isn’t to play in the second half of a preseason blowout.
“Absolutely not,” the former BSU standout said. “The next step is to have a good week of practice this week, hopefully get some more reps the next game and keep building off that. Just keep convincing them that I’m a guy they’d like to have stick around. … I’m going to wait for my chance. And when I get my chance, I’m going to take hold of it.”
Still, Olszewski’s first taste of NFL action was unlike anything else.
“It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” the cornerback-turned-wide receiver said. “… After the game, I sure sat down at my locker and was like, ‘Holy crap, I just played in an NFL football game.’ But I didn’t want to be thinking about that while I was out there on the field.”
The rookie played it cool while in action. Olszewski first touched the field to return the second-half kickoff, but the ball sailed out the back of the end zone for a touchback. Nevertheless, four minutes into the third quarter, he converted his first-ever touch into a 14-yard punt return by making a man miss and darting upfield.
“I ran out for the opening kickoff, and I was just so amped up,” Olszewski said. “I was like, ‘If they kick me this ball, I’m scoring. I’m not stopping for nothing. I’m taking it all the way to the house.’ (On the sideline afterwards) I’ve got my heart pumping and the butterflies still flying like crazy around in my stomach.
“And then I get to go out there on punt return. All I was thinking about was securing the ball, doing my job. Like I said, it was the best time of my life. I can’t really compare it to anything else.”
Olszewski returned two more punts, had a 7-yard rush and recorded a 13-yard reception. He tallied 10 snaps on offense and eight plays on special teams, all after halftime.
And while a moment in the spotlight won’t soon be forgotten, was it enough toward cracking the regular season roster?
“I can’t really speak on that because I’m just a player, and I don’t make those decisions,” Olszewski said. “We know the deal. We’re all here to make the 53-man roster. … I don’t think there’s any stat, like if I score how many touchdowns I’ll be on the team. It’s nothing like that. It’s showing constant improvement and being a guy they want to have around. They keep good guys around.”
The former Beaver is on a shortlist of BSU players to reach the NFL stage. Just Al Wolden (three games in 1987) and Brian Leonhardt (16 games between 2014 and 2015) have suited up in the regular season.
As Olszewski continues his quest to be the third, he knows he’s not just doing it for himself.
“I hope what it means to people who are still at BSU and who have played there (is that) Bemidji is not too small of a town to get your name out there. For anything. It doesn’t have to be football,” he said. “It’s just a testament that, if you work hard and you show out, people will see what you do.”