Olszewski Patriots run after catch

New England Patriots' rookie Gunner Olszewski (9) hurdles a Carolina defender during a recent preseason contest. The former Alvin Yellowjacket, who will now wear No. 80 during the regular season, will play at the wide receiver spot and also return kicks for the defending Super Bowl champs. (Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots/David Silverman)

Gunner Olszewski defied the odds last spring when the 6-0, 190-pound former Alvin Yellowjacket standout signed a free agent contract with the New England Patriots.

So it proved only fitting that the Division II All-American took the underdog theme to the ultimate level by officially being named to the defending Super Bowl champions’ 53-man roster last weekend.

Count Olszewski’s former Yellowjacket coach Robert Wilcox among those locally, who were elated to hear the news. Olszewski will play at the wide receiver position and also return kicks for the Patriots.  

“Anytime you get the opportunity to coach someone who gets to that level, that’s the ultimate goal for them. You can’t state how ecstatic you are for him,” said Wilcox, who now serves as the director of facilities and special events for Alvin ISD. “I’m happy for Gunner and his whole family.”

Hired at Alvin during the spring of 2014, Wilcox coached Olszewski’s senior high school campaign the following fall.

“When I first came in and the coaches said that guy is pretty special and a pretty good safety over there, the first time that I saw him, I said that guy, because he didn’t have the physical traits that you see a lot of times,” Wilcox said. “Gunner always had the it factor. The it factor is if you have to tell someone what it is, they don’t have it. Gunner just had it.”

Although he hasn’t been able to reach his former player since the news broke, Wilcox said he had spoken with a family relative last weekend.

“I haven’t spoken with him since he went to camp,” Wilcox said. “I texted him several times, but I spoke with his grandfather the other day. He said coach he’s been getting your texts, but he’s so focused on trying to make the Patriots that he wasn’t returning texts or phone calls from anybody.

“I’m sure I will talk to him within the next week or so. With all the players I’ve had in the NFL, I made a promise to each of them if they got there that I would go and watch them play. So I guess I’m going to be making a trip to Boston some time this year. That’s a great thing to be able to sit in the stands and see someone who you watched develop like that.”

The weekend didn’t exactly start off so great for Olszewski, who was initially informed on Saturday that he would be cut. However, the Patriots traded cornerback Keion Crossen to the Houston Texans a little later in the day, opening the door for Olszewski to earn the magical roster spot.

“The NFL is a funny business,” Wilcox said. “I sent him a text after I had learned that they had cut him that I was extremely proud of him. Then I sent him another text three hours later that this was absolutely awesome.

“That’s Gunner. He just found a way to hang around and impress them. One of the things that I always tell the guys when they go off to college is make sure you make an impression and make sure they know your name. Gunner did that. He did that from the first day and it just grew and grew.

“By the time training camp was over, it was like you got to do something with me, because I’m here.”

Olszewski completed the preaseason with nine punt returns for 118 yards, four kickoff returns for 95 yards, five catches on seven targets for 69 yards, one rush for seven yards and one tackle.

The former Jacket will also wear the No. 80 for New England after donning the No. 9 during the preseason.

At Division II Bemidji State University, Olszewski became the school’s all-time leader in punt returns and solo tackles. Olszewski brought home three postseason honors last fall with the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) naming the Beavers’ defensive back to its Division II Coaches’ All-America Team recently. Olszewski was one of three Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference student-athletes named to the AFCA All-America First Team.

Olszewski reached the century mark in tackles in his senior all-district first team year in Alvin with 114, while returning a pair of punts for TD’s, scoring on a fumble recovery, intercepting two passes and blocking a pair of PAT’s.

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