For Benji, trip home a chance to help others

Benji Olsen tees off at McCormick Woods - Jesse Beals/Staff Photo
Benji Olsen tees off at McCormick Woods
— image credit: Jesse Beals/Staff Photo

He will maintain residence in his adopted hometown, but it isn’t difficult to convince Benji Olson to come back to the Olympic Peninsula.

The 1994 South Kitsap graduate returned to the area last week to participate in the 15th annual Detlef Schrempf Celebrity Golf Classic at McCormick Woods.

“It’s always great to get back out here, come back home and see family,” said Olson, whose father and siblings still live in the area. “It’s always good to help out the community.”

Olson, 33, retired in March after 11 seasons in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans.

He plans to settle on 18 rural acres in Franklin, Tenn., with his wife, Tracy, and two children.

Son Wyatt, 5, has “got the athlete gene in him,” while daughter Olivia, 3, is “all about princesses and playing dress-up.”

As for Olson, it was always all about the gridiron.

The 6-foot-4, 320-pound guard was a national-level recruit at South along with fellow offensive lineman Tony Coats.

Schools such as Nebraska, Notre Dame and Washington State pursued him, but Olsen committed to Washington, and Coats followed shortly thereafter.

“I pretty much had a choice of anywhere I wanted to go out of high school,” Olson said. “Being a Washington guy, and with the Huskies doing so well in the early ’90s, it was a no-brainer.”

He began to develop back problems at UW, but still was a two-time All-American and is considered one of the best offensive linemen in school history. But the back issues — Olson underwent microsurgery in April 1997 to repair a herniated disk — helped guide him to the NFL.

He declared for the draft after his redshirt junior season and was a fifth-round selection in 1998.

“I figured I could get three or four years with my back and ended up getting 10 before my back started hurting me bad,” said Olson, who only missed two games prior to the 2006 season.

“It was a great career and a lot more years I was expecting to play,” Olson said. “I’m blessed.”

Olson was a winner at every level. South had a 27-4 record in his three years at the school and advanced to the state tournament each season.

In three years at UW, the Huskies went 24-11-1 and played in a bowl each season.

Tennessee only had three losing seasons in his time there and provided his favorite football memory — a trip to the Super Bowl after the 1999, where the Titans lost 23-16 against St. Louis.

“It definitely was a huge memorable moment in my career,” Olson said. “It was awesome.”

Now that his football career is over, Olson plans to finish his sociology degree at Vanderbilt.

After that, he would like to pursue a career in real estate or as a high school football coach.

“I’m just going to see what’s out there and where it takes me,” he said. “I want to see what I enjoy and go from there.”

Olson also plans to watch Titans and Huskies games this fall. He’s hopeful UW coach Tyrone Willingham can guide the program back to a bowl after a five-year drought.

When family, football and academia aren’t taking up his time, Olson hopes to continue to hone his golf skills.

He will return to the area Aug. 9 for another charity golf tournament co-hosted by former South football coach Ed Fisher that awards a scholarship to an athlete at the high school.

“It’s for players that don’t get the recognition they deserve while they’re playing,” he said. “Now that I’m retired, I’ll come out and be a part of it.”

He may be thousands of miles away, but Olson’s thoughts never are too far from home.

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