Part of what makes Notre Dame such an intriguing option for Erik Olsen became apparent to him when learning more about Irish tight end commit Cane Berrong.
In the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Berrong, Olsen sees a traditional tight end who brings physicality as a blocker and impressive route-running skills. Olsen said his rawness and versatility makes him different than Berrong and others.
Had Olsen’s skill set been comparable to Berrong’s, Olsen would have not considered the Irish. Instead, he included Notre Dame in his top six school list on Monday, along with UCLA, Stanford, Washington, Nebraska and Colorado.
“If there’s someone who is almost identical to me,” Olsen told the Tribune, “then we would be fighting for the same spot. Which that’s great, I love competition. But if they end up beating me out at that position, I’m stuck at that position for my entire time there. That’s definitely something I’m going to think about if we have the same skill set.
“(Cane Berrong) is definitely a great athlete, but I feel like our games are just a little bit different. Having a different tight end with a different skill set, they are going to value that.”
Having limited tight end experience explains why Olsen believes he’s different. The Littleton (Colo.) Heritage product transitioned to the position from quarterback as a sophomore.
Lining up in the slot and firing out of a three-point stance were the biggest adjustments, Olsen said. Adding approximately three inches and 35 pounds helped Olsen (now 6-5, 230) look the part. Then he caught 28 passes for 533 yards and eight touchdowns in his breakout junior season. A total of 18 Power Five schools have reportedly offered Olsen a scholarship since December.
The contrast between Olsen’s unrefined skills and burgeoning potential reflects in his divergent evaluations from recruiting analysts. 247Sports considers Olsen to be a three-star recruit, ranking him as its No. 48 tight end and No. 976 overall player in the 2021 recruiting class. Rivals values Olsen as a four-star tight end, pegging him No. 14 at the position.
“A lot of people at my position have a lot more experience at this position than I do,” Olsen said. “I feel like I have a lot of upside, because there’s still so much more I can work on and improve on. I would consider myself pretty raw at the position right now.”
When new tight ends coach John McNulty started recruiting for the Irish in March, he showed interest in pairing Berrong with another at the position in the 2021 class. He initially pushed for Napa (Calif.) High’s Brock Bowers and Council Bluffs (Iowa) Lewis Central’s Thomas Fidone Jr. Both four-star tight ends are expected to land elsewhere, so Notre Dame started pursuing Olsen.
McNulty initiated communication with Olsen last month, and offered him on June 2. Whether the Irish end up landing Olsen or another tight end likely won’t change Berrong’s decision. The four-star tight end told the Tribune in April that McNulty connected with him well and said he knew another tight end could be coming this class.
247Sports ranks Berrong as its No. 8 tight end and No. 225 overall player in the class. The Hartwell (Ga.) County product comes in as the No. 14 tight end on Rivals.
“I don’t care if they bring in eight tight ends,” Berrong said. “I really don’t. I know who I am. I’m just ready to come in and compete.”
For Olsen to already consider Notre Dame as a top school shows his recruitment will be worth monitoring. Olsen learned more about Notre Dame from Heritage offensive coordinator Brandon Stultz. Stultz became a fan after growing up near Notre Dame and playing under head coach Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State.
Recruiting analysts consider UCLA to be the favorite for Olsen. That Olsen no longer plans to announce a commitment before his senior season begins may give the Irish time to catch the Bruins. He’s never visited South Bend but would like to before coming to a decision.
“Now I want to be able to take my five official visits before I make my decision,” he said. “So whenever that’s going to be, I’m just going to have to wait. I’m definitely not going to be committing to a school I’ve never been to, so that’s definitely a factor in my decision.”
The next step for the Irish will include throwing more attention and resources at Olsen. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees contacted him recently. Kelly will become more involved. Expect Notre Dame to hold one or more virtual visits with Olsen.
If a late push for Olsen works, the Irish would be landing a tight end with plenty of untapped potential.
“I feel like I’m a true tight end,” Olsen said. “I’m a really willing and capable blocker. I think that’s one of the things that really stood out last season, my blocking abilities. My ability to play in the box in both the passing and running game.
“I feel like that’s something that not a lot of receivers in my class are super good at. A lot of them are just super big-bodied receivers. There’s definitely a need for those kind of people too.
“But I feel like I’m just different in that way with my ability inside the box.”