The Legend Continues

Oct. 24, 2001

by Mason Kelley

When a person comes from a family that consistently turns out NFL and Division-I college football talent, it can be hard to be successful at anything else.

Husky senior safety Nick Olszewski (pronounced Ole-shev-skee) could have carved out an easy college life playing soccer at Embry Riddle Aeronautical Institute. Olszewski had the scholarship offer in hand, the result of 15 years of hard work on the soccer field, countless hours of sweat put into ballhandling and crafty passing. However, Olszewskis never made a living in any sport but football, and the desire to add his name to the family lineage was just too strong for Nick to resist.

'I visited the Embry Riddle campus and it was a long way from home,' he says. 'I had played football in high school and was decent at it. I thought I had a chance to walk on at Washington and I've always been one to make the most of my opportunities.'

Stitching 'Olszewski' into the back of a football jersey has been a chore for many a Pac-10 equipment manager over the last quarter-century. Nick's uncle, Johnny, was a star at Cal from 1950-1952, eventually being drafted in the first round by the NFL'S Chicago Cardinals in 1953, and Nick's father, Robert, was a punter at USC.

Robert's sister, Tina, has also helped add to the Olszewski legacy. The athletic stars aligned when Aunt Tina married UCLA and NFL star Manu Tuiasosopo, producing Marques, the former Husky quarterback and current Oakland Raider, Zach, a UW outside linebacker, and Leslie, a former Husky volleyball player and current UW assistant coach.

'Having both my dad and uncles play has been fun, as has playing with Marques and Zach,' Olszewski says. 'I have had a lot of family make it to the big time and I am just happy to be a part of it.'

The current Pac-10 incarnation of the Olszewski name may not have the accolades of his predecessors, but he has succeeded in his journey to play football for the Huskies, a rare and proud accomplishment for a non-scholarship player.

'Being a walk-on is hard and quite frankly I think being a walk-on and making it is a greater achievement than being an All-American out of high school and picking where you want to go,' he says.

Most walk-ons earn their stripes on special teams, and Olszewski is no different, earning a reputation as a hard hitter who gets the job done. To consistently achieve success on special teams takes a special mindset, one that Olszewski has had no problem embracing.

'Special teams coach Bobby Hauck calls special teams the 'most aggressive play in football,'' Olszewski explains. 'You are running down the field at full speed looking for someone to hit. Sometimes you guess right and get a good hit, and sometimes you guess wrong and he goes around you.'

Olszewski guessed right during last season's Idaho game, pouncing on a fumble during an Idaho kick return, a play which eventually led to a Huskies touchdown. The fact that Olszewski is known as a hard worker with the proper mentality to succeed is no surprise, given the quality values system instilled in him by his parents.

'My parents have been a very big influence in my life, especially my mother,' he says. 'I was an only child and my mom and dad got divorced when I was five, so I lived with mom. She has always been the one that instilled all my values. My father was a big influence too, but it was hard since I didn't live with him.'

Perhaps Olszewski holds a greater appreciation for the smaller victories of special teams because of the challenges he has been forced to endure, not only in football, but in life.

In 1997, his senior year of high school, Robert Olszewski passed away due to non-Hodgkin's disease cancer caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam. His father's death was difficult for Olszewski emotionally, but he knows that he has not been left alone.

'It was pretty devastating, but I had a good release with football and I have a great family who was there for me,' he says. 'I know he is with me whenever I need him, and I use that as motivation to succeed at anything that I am involved in.'

Olszewski could have taken the easy route, could have played it safe. Instead, he braved life as a Pac-10 football walk-on, choosing to tackle each challenge headfirst.

The choice wasn't made in his head - it was in his genes.

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