High school players from around the country dream about reaching the NFL. Many of them choose colleges based on which ones give them the best chance to reach that goal.
Seth Olsen was pleased just to reach the college level. Thoughts of playing professionally only recently popped into his head.
“I was just excited about the opportunity to play college football,” Olsen said. “When I learned that I could do that in high school, I was just jacked about playing at the college level. I really didn’t give the NFL a thought until the last couple of years.
“I knew playing a couple of years at Iowa was probably going to give me a shot at trying out for the next level. But it’s never been a dream of mine as a wee lad. I think it’s just the next step in the progression.”
Olsen hopes to hear his name called when the NFL holds its annual draft this Saturday and Sunday. At 6-foot-4 ½, 306 pounds, he enters the event having been named first-team all-Big Ten by the coaches and media this past season.
Olsen worked on a line that gave up over 40 sacks in 2007. Last fall, his unit paved the way for running back Shonn Greene to rewrite the Iowa record books and claim the Doak Walker Award as his position’s top player nationally.
Last summer, Olsen stated that he was unsure if he’d pursue an NFL career. That raised some eyebrows coming from someone that had already put together a pretty solid resume at a school known for producing offensive linemen. Seven of them had been drafted in the previous nine years.
“My whole thought process leading up to the season was that I know you have to have a good senior year to even have a chance at the next level,” Olsen said. “I didn’t want to be premature in my jumping into the whole draft process.
“I knew my ’07 season wasn’t great. We weren’t as good as a team or individually. I knew that I needed to play better in order to have a chance. I didn’t want to let anything distract me from doing that.”
After Iowa put together a 9-4 campaign, which included an Outback Bowl victory and Shonn Greene racing for 1,850 yards on the ground, Olsen decided to take a shot at the pros.
“Our team unity was the biggest factor in our success this year,” Olsen said. “In the five years, I never felt more together as a team as I did with this ’08 club. We built off of the frustrations from the ’07 season and we grew up. We had game experience. And it didn’t hurt that we had a good running back.”
Olsen’s top 40-yard dash time this offseason was 5.08 seconds. His best bench of 225 pounds was 28 reps and he topped out at 28 inches on his vertical.
“The combine was actually a really cool experience for me,” Olsen said. “I didn’t have the nerves that I think a lot of the other guys might have had. As you know from covering me, my faith is really important to me. It’s something I lean on.
“I leaned on it during the combine, during the running and all of that stuff. It was actually a pretty cool experience between me and God on the field. The whole four days went pretty well.
“I think it’s an interesting setup. It’s a good thing that they only do it four days because a week would be way too long. You sit for three days doing interviews and then they’re like, alight, go run. Anybody that understands sitting around for three days and not really stretching out, you can get pretty stiff. You loosen up, though, once you get on the field.”
One NFL team has flown Olsen into town for a visit. The Nebraska native chose to keep that team from the public. Several franchises also worked out he and lineman teammate, Rob Bruggeman, in Iowa City, including the Chiefs, Jets, Broncos and Bengals.
“A scout recently told me I’m an easy guy to scout,” Olsen said. “I’m a good player and a good person, he said. I think that’s maybe the general consensus. I don’t know if he was just trying to be nice to me or what, but I think that’s the general idea.”
Some teams do question a certain aspect of Iowa’s offensive linemen in this draft.
“Since we weren’t a huge passing team this past year or traditionally, they might think that our exposure to pass defense and all that might not be as good as others,” Olsen said. “But we spent just as much time practicing it even though we weren’t exposed to it in games. Just because running was our strength this year, I don’t think it’s a weakness.”
Olsen played guard and tackle at Iowa and performed well at both.
“What I’ve learned through this process is that most teams only dress seven offensive linemen,” he said. “So, just because you make the team doesn’t mean you’re going to dress for the games. To be one of those seven, if you’re not a starter, you have to be able to play guard, tackle or maybe even center. Versatility is huge thing, at least for offensive line at the next level to have a shot of making a team.”
Despite his indecision last summer, Olsen has grown confident that he can make it at the game’s highest level.
“I know I’ve had great coaching,” he said. “It’s probably the best offensive line coaching in the country. I know that will work to my advantage when I step into mini-camp. I’m feeling confident about the progress I’ve made from when I came in as a freshman until now. I’m just excited to step into camp in about a week here.”
Olsen plans to surround himself with loved ones as he goes through one of the more anxious times of his life this weekend.
“I may watch a little bit of (the draft),” he said. “I’m going to have a get-together with a few friends and family here in Iowa City. I might watch a little bit here and there, but I don’t want to be sitting there staring at the TV all day. I’ll find some distractions, play some (board) games, that kind of thing.”