The First Family of Gopher Football: The Olsons | News
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Ed Olson Senior captained the Minnesota Gopher football team in the early 80's, and now his sons Eddie and Tommy have earned starting roles on the present-day team.
The backyard at the Olson family's Lake Elmo home shows you all you need to know about the family's love of football.
"We've been playing football ever since I could remember," says Eddie Olson Junior - a sophomore offensive lineman on the Gopher football team. "We played in the backyard, we made a little field goal post when we were little and it's still up actually."
It's a rickety, reddish set of boards crudely nailed together. Two faded flags - one maroon, one gold - wave atop the fifteen foot makeshift goalpost standing as a monument to the family's commitment to, and love for, the sport of football.
"One summer I came home from work and they had found some old boards and nailed them together," says Ed Olson Senior. "They had it up and they were out here kicking field goals and throwing passes. This was their Metrodome. Over the years, they threatened me if I dare take it down... no way."
Before moving to their present home which features the goalposts, Ed Senior once built his sons a different field of dreams.
"Our backyard was like a 50-yard perfect rectangle so it was exactly a football field," explains Tommy Olson, a true freshman offensive lineman for the Gophers. "One of the last times he mowed the lawn, he mowed every yard line in it and put a big M in the middle. Then he woke us up one Saturday morning and showed us. We got out there and literally played for like fifteen days straight on it."
The boys had a love for the game as a foundation, but during their childhood they had another driving force to push themselves to be the best they could.
Their mother Kelly was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer when the boys were four and six years old.
"They didn't understand or comprehend the seriousness of it all," says Ed Senior. "But as they grew up they realized what mom was going through and how tough she was and - it kind of transferred over. It wasn't all me, trust me. Maybe I was the coach... But she was the general manager."
The initial diagnosis was grim at first. Kelly and Ed were prepared to enjoy every moment as their last, and set out to experience as much as they could with their children as quickly as they could.
Kelly Olson beat the odds - and cancer - but the bond it helped form between her sons lasts as a remarkable product of a frightening experience.
"They live together and they hang out all the time, they talk... You can't separate 'em," says Ed Senior.
"We're best friends on and off the field," says Eddie, "We hang out every day and we're together at the hip every day."
"He's easily my best friend," adds Tommy, "I probably wouldn't be here (at Minnesota) without him. He laid a perfect track for me and I just followed it, and he's everything you could ask for in a brother."
As soon as they were old enough to understand the pageantry and spectacle of college football, the boys had one dream - to follow in their fathers footsteps by playing for the Gophers.
"We'd been going to Gopher games since we carried them in," says Ed Senior.
"My mom and dad always told us, they said it's going to be a longshot if we want to do this but make a goal and stick with it," says Eddie
At Mahtomedi High School- when he and his older brother starred, Tommy was one of the most heavily recruited high school players in the state. But when commitment time came, there was hardly a decision to be made.
"When I first started getting recruited," he explains, "I thought it was really cool hearing from everyone, but then I started thinking about it and was like - why would I even go anywhere else cause i've always grown up wanting to play here. Once I heard I got the offer, it was pretty easy to commit."
In fact, Tommy's scholarship offer came as a complete surprise. Then-Gophers coach Tim Brewster was visiting the Olson home to present Eddie with his formal full scholarship offer. While he was there, he asked Tommy if he'd like to play for the Gophers someday as well.
When Tommy said yes, Brewster presented him - just a sophomore - with a full scholarship offer of his own.
Ed Olson Senior says the double-offer was beyond the family's wildest dreams, producing tears of joy throughout the rest of the night.
But the Olsons weren't done ticking off accomplished dreams yet.
When Tommy Olson held his formal commitment signing at his high school during his senior year, he said he "hoped someday to play alongside Eddie again with the Gophers," just as he'd done in high school.
Someday came a lot faster than anybody - even the perennially overachieving Olson family - could have imagined.
Due to some injuries on the Gophers offensive line, and amazing progress in his true freshman season, Tommy got to place a memorable phone call to his father prior to the Gophers game at Purdue two weeks ago.
"We talk to each other every night," Ed Senior explains with a gleam in his eye, "He just called me up and said, 'Dad, I think I'm gonna get the start at Purdue'. I was like 'Come on'?! I asked, 'You at left guard'? He says, 'Right next to Eddie.' It was a dream come true.
Knowing they would be lining up next to one another just six games into Tommy's young college career left the normally reserved Olson boys giddy.
"We kept having to remind each other that it was actually going to happen," Tommy says. "What we've worked for our whole lives, actually came true on that Saturday."
"We sat up and we talked about all the times we had when we were younger playing in the backyard and the varsity team and even in middle school," Eddie says. "It just all came down to this, and it's just a lot of fun. It's just a dream come true."
It's a dream that seemed far-fetched in that old backyard, where Ed Senior spoke slowly when he recalled the memories of his boys pretending - and dreaming - of being Gopher football players as kids.
"I'm sure they had a lot of dreams when they were out here," he reflects. "They're good memories, I'll tell ya'. Those years were special years, and the dream came true."