BEMIDJI -- During Gunner Olszewski’s four years at Bemidji State, head coach Brent Bolte became accustomed to talking about the All-American cornerback.
Now, it’s Bill Belichick who fields questions about Olszewski, who has caught the eye of many observers this preseason as a rookie wide receiver with the New England Patriots.
Three months after signing as an undrafted free agent and with final cuts looming, Olszewski has put himself in the conversation to make New England’s final 53-man roster.
“I’ve done seriously more interviews about him than I’ve probably done about Beaver football,” Bolte said. “Kudos to him. He’s made a name for himself, just like he made a name for himself when he came in here. He worked so hard, stayed after practice and was the first one out there.”
His former teammates have been supporting him every step of the way.
“It’s crazy to just think of him sitting in a meeting room, and he looks over to his right and there walks in Tom Brady,” junior linebacker Gabe Ames said. “That’s unreal…. He’s earned that. And I wish him nothing but the best. It’s been awesome to watch him. And I hope I can continue to watch him on TV.”
The Beavers have set aside the time during training camp this month to tune in and see their former teammate suit up for New England. The whole team got together to watch the Patriots play Tennessee two weeks ago.
“One night we kind of had a viewing party on campus, had some pizza for the guys and watched him,” Bolte said. “It’s really fun getting to see him. Hopefully we’ll get some good news here in a few days.”
Generously listed at 6-feet tall and 190 pounds, Olszewski’s stature and skillset have brought about comparisons to teammate Julian Edelman. That could be his key to ending up on the opening-day roster.
Olszewski recorded five receptions for 69 yards over four preseason games, the longest for 29 yards in Thursday’s 31-29 loss to the Giants. But it’s the Alvin, Texas, native’s explosive ability on punt and kick returns that could be his ticket to making the cut.
“He's really started from the bottom-up,” Belichick said in a press conference Monday. “He's consistently gotten better and improved in the things that we've asked him to do. Again, he's got a long way to go too, but he's showed a lot of improvement. He's been out there every day, he works hard, he gets better.”
Olszewski accumulated 213 return yards over four games, including 84 yards on four returns in his best performance to date Thursday. Ever the jack of all trades, Olszewski even played at his old position when the Pats inserted him at cornerback during the second half.
Olszewski finished the night with four kick/punt returns, two catches and one tackle. The versatile former Beaver had reporters and fans alike buzzing on social media.
Time for the pro shop to print out the Gunner Olszewski jerseys. Print. Em. Up.— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) August 30, 2019
I have a crazy feeling that Gunner is going to make the roster as an eighth wide receiver, but I'm not sure if Belichick is wild enough to do it.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) August 30, 2019
I fully support the idea but would be bummed that he would have to change out of No. 9.
CB-turned-WR/PR Gunner Olszewski now enters the game at his original position -- cornerback. The undrafted free agent from Division II Bemidji State has made an impression on teammates with his relentless approach and competitiveness.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 30, 2019
None of that surprises anyone in Bemidji.
“I promise you, if Gunner makes it into a team camp, he will make it on a team,” Ames said he told people when Olszewski’s name didn’t get called during April’s NFL Draft. “Say he doesn’t make the Patriots: I guarantee you with the name he’s made for himself, somebody will pick him up.”
Olszewski will learn whether he’s made the 53-man roster by 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, when NFL teams are required to make their final cuts.
“That’d be awesome,” Ames said of Olszewski winding up on an NFL roster. “And that’d be super encouraging, for not only Bemidji State, but Division II players as well. Just to see somebody who works hard and works their tail off every day…. It lets people know that, hey, anything is possible. If you want it, you can go get it and you’ve just got to put in the work.”
Even if he doesn’t make the cut, Olszewski could end up on New England’s practice squad, or another team could take an interest in him.
Either way, Olszewski has come closer to achieving his NFL dream than most players ever do.
“It’s a fun story,” Bolte said. “Everybody wants to have a success story like that. I’m praying that he gets an opportunity.”