BOZEMAN — Derrick Olsen never envisioned that his college athletic exploits would take place on a track oval.
Yet all he's done since focusing on the sport is make a significant impact on Montana State's record board.
Olsen was a state champion in the 110-meter hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles at Helena High as a senior in 2017. But another sport had a grip on Olsen and it was the one that initially led to where he began his collegiate journey.
"Football has always been my number one sport, I'd say," he said. "It was always my favorite growing up and I always felt it was my best sport."
Olsen made the trek to Billings to play football for Rocky Mountain College. He'd play two seasons, appearing in 18 games at wide receiver from 2017-18, recording 18 receptions and 191 yards receiving along with two touchdowns.
Olsen had hopes he could gain a spot on Montana State's football team and moved to Bozeman following the 2018 fall semester. The move didn't go as he planned and he found himself getting restless in his room at that time just attending classes.
Olsen had competed an indoor track and field season at Rocky, so joining the Bobcats' program seemed a possibility.
His next move: Show up and try to participate in a meet. The problem: the first meet at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse was an invitational dual that didn't allow unattached competitors.
"I showed up just as everybody was setting the blocks," Olsen recalled. "I asked if I could get into the race. (Jay Turner) looked at me like I was a fool. We laugh looking back at that conversation now."
A conversation that Turner, MSU's sprints coach, says is unbelievable now was at least an initial push for Olsen, however.
The following week MSU hosted the Big Sky Tuner, the final event ahead of the Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships in Worthington Arena. This one was open to outside entrants, so Olsen – with a bit of a push – eventually got to compete.
"I wasn't even going to run in that meet," Olsen said. "I had a high jumper friend from Helena High that wanted to jump in that meet, Brian McMahon, he wanted to jump in it but he said he'd do it if I ran. I told him I would just so that he could try it. I showed up and did it. That was a fun race. That was the first time I'd been over hurdles in a year."
Olsen ran in the first of three heats and clocked a time of 8.35 seconds in the 60 hurdles. It was nearly a second faster than any of his counterparts. When the complete results came in, Olsen was second of 13 competitors.
"After the race (Turner) shot me a text and asked me how I felt about running in the conference meet," Olsen said. "I thought there was no reason really not to. I thought it'd be good to see how I compared to everybody else at this level."
In a two-week span, Olsen went from walking up to a marshalling area to see if he could compete in an NCAA Division I race against some of the best sprinters in the Big Sky. He went on to score points for a team that earned a runner-up finish at the 2019 Big Sky Indoor Championships.
Olsen advanced to a finals race by claiming the eighth fastest time in program history of 8.20 seconds in the preliminaries. Though he said he had a bad start to his finals appearance, he still managed to place seventh in 8.32.
That would be just the start.
Olsen captured all-conference honors in his first outdoor season in 2019 by taking third in the 110 hurdles at the Big Sky championships in Missoula. His time of 14.36 he set was the fourth fastest by a Bobcat in the event.
The 2020 indoor season featured Olsen advancing to finals races in two events at the Big Sky championships. He set a school record of 8.01 seconds in the 110 hurdles en route to a fourth-place finish.
"I didn't think I'd be able to compete with a lot of the guys," Olsen said when he first looked at running at the Division I level. "Bronze was a big shock to me, then once I realized that, 'Oh wow, I can compete with a lot of these guys,' indoor in 2020 was no issue. I was ready to go and prepared. It was bittersweet to get fourth, but you can't really be mad if you run your fastest time. It's all been crazy."
Olsen looked to be improving dramatically heading into the 2020 outdoor season but the slate was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Though it may have slowed his development initially, Turner sees it as a plus.
"He's had to come so far from not even being on a team to being on one," Turner said. "He had to get into shape, work on getting better, learn my system, that outdoor season would have been very helpful.
"But he's essentially been here two years now, so he knows everything that we do as far as training is concerned. He's kind of mastered those things, he's in super shape right now, even better than coming into last year."
The work has paid off.
Olsen moved his way up MSU's all-time 110 hurdles chart this season and seized the record holder spot at the Big Sky Outdoor Championships in Ogden, Utah, a week ago. His converted time of 13.95 seconds led him to another bronze medal finish and moved him past Jamison Banna's 28-year-old mark of 14.05 seconds.
"It's been great so far," Olsen said of being part of the Montana State sprints and hurdles group. "There's no way I'd be where I am without Jay (Turner). His coaching, he holds all of us accountable, his workouts we can tell that each and every one of them has a point to them. We don't just do a workout to do it. Everything is a building process and he knows the process since his time at Akron."
Now Olsen has an opportunity on the biggest collegiate stage.
Along with 12 other Bobcats, he will participate in the NCAA West Preliminary Round in College Station, Texas, which begins Wednesday. Olsen enters the 110 hurdles with the 33rd fastest time in the region.
His first-round race takes place the opening day at 5 p.m. MDT at E.B. Cushing Stadium. If he is able to advance to the quarterfinals, which would take place on May 28, Olsen would be a step away from nationals in Eugene, Oregon.
It's a result Turner believes is a real possibility.
"Derrick and I have talked about this, other than maybe Drake (Schneider), he may have been the biggest loser of not having an 2020 outdoor season," Turner said. "You're starting to see the best of Derrick on the track. The records he's set are just the tip of the iceberg. I think Derrick can be special. Forget the Big Sky championship, there's no doubt in my mind he's a future NCAA qualifier."