Lakeridge football coach Spencer Phillips can't help but laugh when he recalls the first time he saw receiver Joey Olsen in team workouts before last season.
When the players divided into groups, Olsen went with the freshmen.
“I said, 'Hey, you're going to the wrong side of the field,'” Phillips said. “And he was like, 'No, Coach, I'm a freshman.' I remember that, thinking, 'That's right, you're only 14.'”
At 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, Olsen certainly didn't look like a freshman. And he didn't play like one, either, racking up 22 catches for 347 yards and four touchdowns in Lakeridge''s five-game season.
Olsen carried that momentum into a productive summer. Thanks to a new commitment to weight training, he carries 200 pounds on his now 6-5 frame. He has improved his speed, clocking 4.5 seconds in the 40 at a college camp. And he showed his athleticism with a 48-inch box-jump after a morning workout.
“This was really my first time being able to stay in the weight room consistently,” Olsen said. “So I definitely feel bigger, stronger, faster. Overall, I feel better.”
Olsen has evolved into a national-caliber recruit. Among sophomores, 247Sports rates him as the No. 1 prospect in Oregon and No. 72 in the nation. He has received scholarship offers from Oregon State, Penn State, Arizona State, Louisville and Nevada.
“I'm really excited about it,” he said. “It's a great feeling to know that I have options to go where I would like to go in college.”
Olsen played on JV2 in 7-on-7 last offseason and was behind several receivers on the depth chart in preseason practices. But when the Pacers had some injuries at receiver in camp, Phillips decided to give the rookie a chance.
Olsen not only handled his assignments in practice, he excelled. When Phillips threw a curveball by putting Olsen in different positions, he was up to the task.
“He ended up playing three different positions in practice and started making plays,” Phillips said. “At that point it was like, this kid deserves to be up here. From that point, he took charge, as a 14-year-old kid. He never looked back.
“There was so much I had to evaluate from him. I wasn't expecting him to be a varsity player just because there's the maturity level, and the physical element of the game.”
Olsen took advantage of the opportunity.
“I didn't expect to start,” Olsen said. “I knew I needed to work to get a starting position, or to even play, as a freshman. I hadn't played football since the fall of my eighth-grade year, so I was still a little – not hesitant, but it was weird making that jump from eighth-grade football to varsity football. So I was definitely excited and nervous.”
Olsen had six catches for 30 yards in his varsity debut against Oregon City. He caught his first touchdown pass in his fourth game against Tigard and had a breakout performance in the finale against rival Lake Oswego, catching seven passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-21 defeat.
“You kept seeing his confidence build,” Phillips said. “For him to play five Three Rivers League games, against the best competition in the state … I think he finally realized, 'I can do this.'”
Olsen said he wasn't necessarily surprised by his performance as a freshman, but more encouraged by his teammates "believing in me and knowing that I can play at that level with them, and trusting me to be in that position as a freshman.”
The Lake Oswego game provided a big boost.
“It definitely helped my confidence,” Olsen said. “I always knew my teammates trusted me, but after that game, it really helped me be more confident in myself.”
Olsen's father, Michael (who is 6-2), competed in football, basketball and track at Central Catholic, and his mother, Brittany (5-11), played volleyball at the University of Idaho and overseas. Joey played football, basketball and baseball as a freshman, but is planning to switch to track in the spring to improve his speed.
He started out as a running back in youth football before moving to tight end and finally ending up at receiver in junior high, mostly used at the slot. Looking ahead, it's difficult to tell if his career will play out as a receiver, in the mold of former South Medford star Chase Cota, or a tight end, with athleticism reminiscent of ex-Hillsboro standout Colt Lyerla.
“It's hard to say because I don't know what his body is going to look like,” Phillips said. “I think it's too early. I think by the time he's done, he's going to break sub-4.5. And I do think he's going to be a 240-pound kid.
“Joey can put his hand in the ground and block, he's so tough. But it's hard not to put someone with that sub-4.5 speed on the perimeter. Right now it's my job to make sure I can get him the ball.”
Olsen has spent much of his summer working out with Lakeridge junior quarterback Ryan Oliver, who threw for 1,197 yards and 12 touchdowns in five spring games.
“I love playing with Ryan. He throws a really pretty ball,” Olsen said. “We've set really high goals. This year we're aiming for a state championship. This team this year has a lot better chemistry because last year was so choppy because of COVID.”
Olsen has improved on getting out of his breaks, according to Phillips.
“He's a very smooth route runner,” Phillips said. “He's a very tall guy, and he moves well, he bends well. He has big, old bear paws as hands. If you can get it in his vicinity, he comes down with it. … He can jump out of the gym. He can two-step dunk from the three-point line.
“I pinch myself remembering that he's only a sophomore. He's got so much room to grow.”