NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The upwardly mobile football coaching career of Morris native Ben Olson took another step recently as he was named defensive line coach at Yale University.
Yes, that Yale University. Ivy League. Alma mater of Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Producer of 20 Nobel laureates and 17 Supreme Court justices.
It’s so far beyond a dream for most people that Olson himself still has trouble putting his head around it.
“It’s amazing,” Olson said. “Everybody knows of Yale. I would never had thought while I was in high school in Morris that I would end up at Yale. It’s such a special place. You think you have an idea about it, but once you get on campus and see the buildings and the history, it’s just incredible.
“If a coach tells you they are not going anywhere else, they are probably lying. It’s the nature of the business. People move around all the time. You never know what opportunity will pop up.”
Olson graduated from Morris Community High School in 2008 after helping lead the Redskins to a second-place finish in Class 5A in 2007 and attended Eastern Illinois University to play football. He became a graduate assistant at EIU in 2012 under head coach Dino Babers. In 2013, he coached linebackers at Division III Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology before rejoining Babers at Bowling Green University in 2014-15 and following Babers to Syracuse for the 2016 season. He coached outside linebackers at Colgate University in 2017.
“This is a big opportunity for me,” Olson said. “I get to be in charge of the entire defensive line. To have a whole unit is exciting.”
Olson will also have a hand in recruiting for the Bulldogs, and his region of concentration is the West Coast.
“That is going to be fun,” he said. “We will be competing for recruits against schools the likes of Stanford, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Washington, Cal. We look for those players with 3.0 grade-point averages or above and with good test scores. Being at Colgate last year really gave me a good experience recruiting the top academic players.”
While his career has taken him all over the country, Olson, the son of Rick and Kay Olson, has never forgotten his Morris roots. In fact, his brother, Jake, is the Yale football chief of staff.
“As soon as Jake graduated from Eastern Illinois, I moved to Syracuse,” Olson said. “He moved with me and started as an intern in the operations department there. Then, he got the job at Yale and moved up the chain there, and he got me an interview.”
Through his different stops, Olson said he has learned from every coach he has served under, but that the fundamentals he learned in Morris still form the foundation of his football knowledge.
“I learned a lot from my coaches in Morris,” he said. “My head freshman coach was Jim Farber and sophomore coach was Alan Thorson. They both let us know that football should be fun. You want to take it seriously, but not so seriously that it’s not fun. And John Wodziak really taught me that the personal relationships are important.
“Dan Darlington, Denny Steele, Keith Laughary and George Dergo taught me to be tough. Not only physically, but mentally. My senior year, we were 0-2 and losing to Oswego in the fourth quarter of our third game. We ended up winning 11 in a row and going to state. That’s being mentally tough.”
Olson anticipates one game in particular this season, when the Bulldogs play Harvard at Fenway Park in Boston.
“That is going to be an awesome experience,” he said. “The history with those two schools and that stadium is amazing.”