FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Gunner Olszewski has officially completed his journey from Bemidji State to the NFL.
Olszewski became the third Beavers player to appear in an NFL game Sunday night when he took the field as a punt returner for the New England Patriots in their 33-3 season-opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The only other BSU players to see NFL action are tight end Brian Leonhardt, who played 16 games for Oakland and San Francisco from 2014-15, and running back Al Wolden, who suited up for three games with Chicago in 1987.
Olszewski, from Alvin, Texas, assumed all punt return duties for the defending Super Bowl champions in place of longtime punt returner Julian Edelman. The former All-American cornerback’s abilities translated seamlessly to the NFL, as Olszewski returned two punts for 35 yards to go along with three fair catches. His 17.5 yards per return were the highest of any punt returner in the league with at least two returns on Sunday.
"Gunner is making great plays in punt (returns)," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "It was good all the way around.”
Olszewski’s first action on an NFL field began uneventfully with a fair catch in the first quarter, but he soon got the opportunity to show off his wheels.
The rookie from Alvin, Texas, picked up the first yardage of his NFL career on a 20-yard punt return late in the first quarter. The punt return was the longest of any in the NFL so far this season.
He gained 15 yards on his second return of the night one quarter later, simultaneously receiving praise from NBC broadcasters Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.
"He's earned this job," Collinsworth said. "He has been really impressive in preseason at returning kicks."
New England also converted Olszewski to play wide receiver, where he lined up at for the team’s final offensive snap of the game. Olszewski also appeared on the kickoff coverage team, where he even broke his nose when taking a forearm from Steelers returner Ryan Switzer in the third quarter. Olszewski shook it off and finished out the game.
"It's a nose, man," he said Monday. "You don't need it to run or anything like that."
Olszewski, who donned the No. 80 for his regular-season debut, performed well enough to keep from being replaced by receiver Antonio Brown. The Pro Bowler officially joined the team as a free agent Monday after Oakland released him Saturday at his request. New England waived safety Obi Melifonwu to make room for Brown on the 53-man roster.
Olszewski and the Patriots will travel to Miami for their matchup against the Dolphins on Sunday, Sept. 15.