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Cool in the clutch

North finds it's in good hands with Olson

When lacerated his spleen in a game against Grants Pass on Oct. 16, 1998, his doctor advised him to retire from football.

Olson had suffered the same mishap when he fell off his bike at age 10.

But the North Medford High wide receiver and defensive back loved the game too much to give it up. Two years later, Olson has emerged as one of the top receivers in the Southern Oregon Conference, if not the state.

It took about three months to fully heal the last time — I couldn't even go to school for three weeks, Olson says. My doctor said I could have died if the bleeding hadn't stopped when it did. But I've played two full seasons since then without any problems, and it's something I no longer think about.

It was an easy decision to come back. Football has given me so much.

And Olson has given the Tornado its most explosive weapon. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior has caught 21 passes for 441 yards and nine touchdowns.

Olson has also run back an interception 103 yards to paydirt, he's thrown a 51-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Poulton and he's had a punt return touchdown called back by a penalty.

He doesn't have quite as many catches this year as he had last season, but he's definitely our big-play receiver, says North Medford coach Rod Rumrey, whose No. 3-ranked Tornado meets Lincoln of Portland in a first-round state playoff game Friday night (7:30) at Spiegelberg Stadium. And he's a much better player this year. He knows how to find the soft spots in a defense.

Olson has made several spectacular catches, with two of them coming during North Medford's 12-9 victory over Grants Pass on Oct. 27. The first occurred when he dove to snare a 45-yard pass with his fingertips and the second came when he grabbed the winning touchdown pass that deflected off teammate Brian Weeks.

If I can get my hands on the ball I pretty much feel like I can catch it, Olson says. It's a matter of concentrating.

Olson broke open last Friday's 24-0 victory over Ashland when he hauled in a 60-yard bomb from Kevin Foreman with six minutes to play that made it 17-0.

Olson and Foreman, the Tornado quarterback, have played together since the eighth grade. They have developed a bond and a trust that goes beyond the football field.

We've been playing catch on weekends since the eighth grade, Olson says. We?ll go out on a Saturday or Sunday and throw the ball back and forth for hours. I think that's really helped our timing. He knows where I'm going to be on my routes and I know where the ball's going to be.

Adds Foreman: Mike probably runs the best routes on the team and with his speed he can beat pretty much anybody one-on-one. Sometimes I just throw the ball to a spot and Mike gets there and catches it.

We've been doing that for years.

This season, Olson has also blossomed into one of the top defensive backs in the SOC. He routinely covers the opponent's top receiver.

He's one of the best cornerbacks in the conference and that's kind of a surprise because he didn't play much defense last season, Rumrey says. He's learned the finer points of playing pass defense. He got beat deep that one time by Parker Lane (of Grants Pass) but that was the only time all season.

Olson has enhanced his speed and quickness by participating in a speed development class taught by Tornado defensive coordinator John Beck. The players lift weights for 30 minutes and then do speed and agility drills, such as jumping up and down on a wooden box.

The workouts have improved Olson's speed and endurance, which came in handy when he returned an interception 103 yards for a touchdown against Eureka on Sept. 29.

The receiver fell down and the ball ended up in my hands, Olson says.

Whether it's been on offense, defense or special teams, the ball keeps finding its way to North Medford's big-play man.

Reach reporter at 776-4469, or e-mail

Mike Olson