Big Ben Goes Back in Time

How would Tennessee coaches and fans like to go back in time to get a big prospect that got away?

For instance: If the Vols had retained a commitment they got from Carnell Williams in 2001, how much different would the last four seasons have been?

Obviously, there's no way to know the answer to such an inquiry, but there are many ways to imagine how the acquisition of such a talent would have impacted contests between Tennessee and Auburn the last two seasons. To say nothing of the contest that looms on the horizon.

Recruiting, by its very nature, is equal parts regret and relief, reflection and speculation. Ultimately, it can never be fully understood but the passage of time does provide a degree of clarity.

We can't reverse the clock or change the past but in rare instances, prospects can come back in play and you get a chance to do it all again — four years later. Just such a case exists this recruiting season with quarterback Ben Olsen, who was rated the nation's No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2001 by Super Prep magazine.

Olsen signed with BYU after a stellar scholastic career at Thousand Oaks High School in California and sat out his freshman year as a redshirt. He then decided to undertake his two-year mission as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He completed that mission on Nov. 1 and is now free to sign with any college in the country.

Although Olsen will has his fair share of rust due to competitive inactivity, he also has four years of maturity that is evident on his imposing 6-foot-5 frame. The big southpaw also has plenty of power in his passing arm and surprisingly nimble feet, as underscored by his 4.55 time in the 40. According to this week's Sports Illustrated, Olsen is revisiting the recruiting process and is considering a return to BYU in addition to seven other schools including Tennessee, Florida, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Michigan and Stanford. He plans to sign by mid December and enroll at a school in time for spring practice.

"This time around Benny isn't a high school kid with stars in his eyes," Thousand Oaks coach Mike Sanders told SI. "With his maturity and what he's been through, he knows how to ask stronger questions of college coaches: ‘What plans do you have for the quarterback position? How many quarterbacks are you recruiting?' Those kinds of things."

Olsen served his mission in Canada where a routine day consisted of 15 hours of bible study and door-to-door testimony for his faith. By the way, each missionary pays for the privilege of serving the two-year assignment and is responsible for all the bills incurred in the process. (Tennessee defensive lineman Jonathan Mapu is currently serving such a mission after spending two years at UT.)

During the time Olsen was on the mission he abstained from television, newspapers and internet access. He was allowed two calls home per year — one on Mother's Day and one on Christmas.

"I missed football greatly," he told SI's Michael Farber. "It was tough to leave behind. But I think I will be a better man and a better player because of my mission. Certainly it gave me a thicker skin, made me mentally tougher."

Olsen didn't lose his sense of humor while on his mission. Commenting on getting chased by dogs he said: "When a dog comes after you, you only have to be faster than your companion."

Let the chase for Big Ben begin.

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