Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Most would say that Dante Olson was born to be a football player. And, well, they would be right.
The only exception would be for those insinuating the Cascade Christian junior linebacker never had a choice in the matter.
Sure, he practically learned to walk on the Southern Oregon University football field in Ashland.
And, yes, he's been privy to more coaches meetings and film sessions than most of his own football coaches, much less his peers on the gridiron.
When your father is the Raiders' head coach for the first seven years of your life, then moves on to guide the program at North Medford High School until your freshman year, it's impossible to not have football play some part of your development.
As SOU's head coach, Jeff Olson earned the second-most wins in the football program's history (50-36) and his winning percentage of .581 ranked as the best in program history at the time of his departure. He led the 2001 and '02 squads to the NAIA Championship quarterfinals.
The thing about it, though, is Dante Olson insists he formed a passion for the sport entirely on his own.
Truth be told, his parents Jeff and Linda Olson did their best to stay out of the equation when it came to playing football.
"It's very cool for me because I can remember being the ballboy for my Dad and being on the field at SOU and stuff like that," says the 16-year-old, "and those are some of my favorite memories. Football is definitely my favorite sport, but it was also my choice. My parents have done a great job of letting me choose what I want to do."
To wit, Jeff Olson was a mainstay in the stands and regularly served as the team's, for lack of a better term, water boy while his youngest son was making his way as an AAU basketball player in elementary school.
Whether it was basketball, which the 6-foot-2, 175-pounder still plays, or track and field or football or anything beyond the realm of sports, Olson says the thing he has enjoyed the most is unflinching support from his family.
"I can see it in other people's lives where they might be a good athlete or good at something else and their Dads push and push and push them and they end up not liking it," he says. "My Dad doesn't push me to play football, he just lets me play and lets me do what I want. If I wanted to play the piano, he'd probably just take me to the recitals and everything."
What all that has meant to Olson is that he enjoys playing football for all the right reasons, and it shows. As an outside linebacker, he led the Challengers in tackles a season ago as they finished 13-1 and runner-up to Dayton in the 3A state championship. He, again, is the team's leading tackler with 37 overall through four games. His two defensive touchdowns are a team-best, and his two interceptions and four sacks are only one off the standards set thus far by Stephen Joffer and T.J. Alvarez, respectively.
"He's just relentless," says Challengers head coach Jon Gettman, "and to me I think that's his greatest attribute in everything he does. Whether it's on the field, in the weight room or watching film, he's just relentless. He works at it with complete focus."
That, however, is a trait that Gettman says can be traced back to all the years of watching his father on and off the sidelines.
"Being a coach's kid allows him to be around the sport," says Gettman, "but Jeff does a great job with how he treats him and works with him as our linebackers coach. Jeff's an incredible worker and I think that's the biggest thing Dante's seen over the years. Being a coach's kid plays a part in how natural it is for him, but I think Jeff's work ethic is what's been passed down the most to Dante."
The second-nature aspect of playing linebacker for Olson definitely stems from a lifetime of being around the sport, and an intense passion for all things football.
"Growing up it's what I've done and what I know," he says. "I love hitting and getting my reads and making plays. I like being linebacker but you can't make any plays there without your defensive line making it possible. If it weren't for them taking on blockers for me I wouldn't be able to get those tackles."
Gettman sees Olson as a unique blend of athleticism and preparation for his position as outside linebacker. Surrounding him are middle linebacker Dalton Palmer and outside linebacker Tanner Parker.
"He's disciplined and when he goes, he goes full speed and he delivers a blow when he gets there," says the fourth-year coach. "The key is his reads. He just does a great job of getting his reads and knows his job and when it's time to make a play, he just does it."
None of it is by accident, mind you, Olson is keen on going the extra mile in terms of preparation.
"Watching a lot of film is something I do to make me a better player," he says. "It allows me to get my reads and know what I'm doing. You've got to always have a motor and you can't give up on any play, but knowing your reads and what you're supposed to do is just as important. When I'm confident in what I'm seeing then I can react quicker because I know what's coming."
Olson also shares time on the offensive side of the ball this year, playing fullback and slot receiver — although he considers himself to be more of a glorified offensive tackle in each role. Still, he hauled in a touchdown pass during last week's 35-21 loss at Ridgeview.
"He knows his role and does a great job of it," says Gettman, noting Olson is also a regular on special teams. "He's a valuable piece to our team."
As for this season, the Challengers take a 2-2 record into Friday's game against Gold Beach at U.S. Cellular Community Park but continue to show improvement as they look to repeat as Southern Cascade Hybrid champions.
"We'd like to be different as far as the win-loss column," says Gettman, "but just as far as improving and maintaining focus and working hard, I'm very pleased."
So, too, is Olson, who says he and his teammates are as determined as ever to maintain Cascade Christian's winning tradition.
"I think that we're definitely looking forward to seeing what we can do and just trying to take it week after week to see how we can get better," says Olson. "We definitely still have a lot of great players and leaders on this team and we're just gonna keep working hard at it and hopefully it will all work out for us."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry