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Chi-Hi, UW-EC grad Olson’s journey comes full circle with head coaching job

Codrington's punt return seals win for NC Central

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Sep. 10—As he watched his team roll to a victory on the sun-drenched field at Carson Park, Mitch Olson couldn’t help but reminisce a bit.

Years ago, he had been a kid running up and down these sidelines on ball boy duty. A little later, he ran between the hash marks as a player, first for Chippewa Falls and eventually UW-Eau Claire.

And finally, on this day in late August, things had come full circle.

Once a captain on the gridiron, Olson made his return to Eau Claire’s historic stadium as a leader of a different kind. Now the head coach at La Crosse Central, he’s taken the next step in a lifetime infused with the game.

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“It felt like things came full circle,” he said. “I remember being a ball boy on the sidelines at Carson Park when Chi-Hi was playing, and then playing there years later. Now to have been a head coach on this field, it was just a special moment and a special feeling to be in a place like that where I spent so much of my formative years and made a lot of special memories.”

Olson is in his first year as a head coach, taking over for longtime Central coach Tony Servais last offseason. He’s been around football his entire life, beginning with working the sidelines for Chippewa Falls as his father, Bart, served as an assistant for the Cardinals.

It got him started on a path he has no doubt led him to where he is today.

“I grew up with my dad coaching and my mom coaching,” he said. “Some of the most impactful people in my life were coaches that I had growing up. It means a lot to me to be able to do this and have that responsibility. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in.”

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When he reached the high school ranks, it became clear that Olson’s time around the sport was going to help him reap massive benefits as a player. As the team’s quarterback, he helped lead Chi-Hi to a pair of Big Rivers titles as a junior and senior, and earned Leader-Telegram All-Northwest player of the year honors in 2008. He threw for more than 1,200 yards as a senior that year.

Olson shined on defense too, earning honorable mention all-state honors as a defensive back from the Associated Press.

And even then, Olson displayed leadership traits that easily fit the mold of an eventual coach.

“He has credibility because of the time and effort he put into the program,” his high school coach, Chuck Raykovich, said in 2008. “He wasn’t just a shouter. He was a doer. It’s easy to believe people like that.”

Olson went on to play college football for two years at Winona State before transferring to UW-Eau Claire for three more, playing primarily as a defensive back with a bit of work in the backfield thrown in.

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After he finished his education, he and his girlfriend — now wife — moved to La Crosse and he took a spot on Central’s coaching staff as an assistant. He held that title for six years before assuming head coaching duties this summer.

“I can’t say I thought I’d be a head coach at La Crosse Central when I started here,” Olson said. “I thought maybe we’d end up moving back to where we grew up, but right out of college I guess we did a lot of growing up here too. This place has become our home, and we’re fortunate to be part of the community.”

Things are going well in his first stint leading a program. The RiverHawks are 2-1, with wins over Eau Claire Memorial — which marked his return to Carson Park — and Eau Claire North.

Olson has taken pieces from each of the coaches who helped shape him — his father, Raykovich and coordinator Ed Watkins at Chi-Hi, and Todd Glaser and Ben Halder with the Blugolds — to become the kind of leader he wants to be.

“Those have all been very important people to me who I was lucky enough to learn how to coach the right way from, and to have a positive impact on kids,” Olson said.

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And now he has a chance to pay it forward. Olson has been able to bring his son to practice, a mirror image of the situation he had as a young boy patrolling the sidelines of the Chippewa Valley.

“I always wanted to go down this path,” Olson said. “I was always out there with my parents when they were coaching, and today I had my son out here for the end of our practice. I can’t think of a better spot to raise a kid.”

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