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Gunner Olszewski’s path to the NFL was anything but typical

The former two sport athlete has found his way into the NFL, and onto the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster.

NFL: JAN 09 Patriots at Dolphins Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you are like me, when the news hit of the Pittsburgh Steelers signing former New England Patriots returner Gunner Olszewski you had a reaction like this...

“Who?”

It isn’t as if Olszewski isn’t a capable return man, but he isn’t really a household name. Do some research on Olszewski and you know he was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Bemidji State, a Division II school. On top of that, he stayed with the Patriots for three seasons, being named a first team All-Pro in 2020 as a return man.

While coming from Bemidji State and turning an undrafted rookie contract into becoming an All-Pro is unique, the fact Olszewski was a two sport athlete in college, both football and baseball, and somehow ended up in the NFL is even more aytpical.

“I played both [baseball and football] my whole life and when high school was done, I only had two places I could go that would let me play football and baseball,” Olszewski told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “Bemidji State was one of them and I took a visit there and that place just felt like home to me from the second I got there. That is how I ended up there.”

Olszewski’s father was drafted into the Atlanta Braves organization when he was in college, and his son Gunner wanted to make it further than the minor leagues, besting his father’s career achievements. However, an injured hand prohibited from playing baseball, but not football.

“I broke my hand the first game my junior year season playing baseball,” said Olszewski. “I was planning on getting drafted that year for baseball because the baseball draft is something like 40 rounds. I would have gotten picked somewhere in there. My plan was to leave school and go play baseball and go through the farm leagues like my dad and hopefully make it further than he did. When I broke my hand, I still got the chance to play my senior year football which I didn’t think I was going to. After that season I started getting interest from football teams and I said whichever ones come first between football and baseball. My opportunity was football, so that’s how football got picked for me.”

Either way, finding a way onto a roster, and turning it into not just one, but two new contracts is impressive. Nonetheless, Olszewski understands his path might have been rocky, but few players have a smooth ride into the NFL.

“I don’t think anybody’s path to the NFL is easy,” Olszewski added. “I don’t care if you’re a first-round pick or wherever you get picked at, or wherever you get picked up as a free agent. Nobody has an easy path here. It’s hard work. That’s what it takes. Everybody knows that. It’s even harder work to stay in the league.”

Making it in the NFL takes toughness. The ability to withstand both mental frustration and physical punishment to make plays necessary to help your team win. For Olszewski, he claims his toughness comes from his roots growing up in Alvin, Texas.

“I’m from Alvin, Texas,” he replied. “Being from Alvin, you have to be tough. You don’t have a choice.”

The town of Alvin is home to roughly 27,000 people, not far from from Houston, and home of Hall of Fame baseball player, Nolan Ryan, as well as Boston Red Sox pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and, of course, Olszewski.

“It’s a small town outside of Houston,” said Olszewski. “Everybody growing up knows who Nolan Ryan is and you want to be like Nolan Ryan. He is a tough guy. That’s the guy that represents your hometown. You want to represent well, so I think that’s where my toughness comes from.”

Regardless of where the toughness originated, Olszewski is ready to put his best foot forward for the Pittsburgh Steelers. To do so he knows his role on the team, and what it entails.

“I play with fearlessness, toughness,” said Olszewski.

Sounds like a player who was meant to don the black and gold.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft.