Olaus Alinen believes that the University of Kentucky football coaching staff saw a “great opportunity” when he was offered a scholarship almost a year ago between his freshman and sophomore years of high school.
“They were like the sixth or seventh school to offer me. I know quite a bit about them and have been in touch with them for about a year now,” he said. “It seems like a great school.
“I never expected to get any scholarship offers before I actually played (at Loomis Chaffee). I knew I would eventually get some, or thought I would, when I got to the U.S. but getting offers before I ever played was kind of shocking.”
He remains “open” on when he might make an unofficial visit to Kentucky – or any other school – since he will not be back in the United States until Aug. 24 to play his junior season at Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut.
Alinen is a 6-foot-7, 300-pound junior offensive tackle from Finland who already has about 20 scholarship offers and interest from some of the nation’s top programs after Gridiron Imports helped him find camps to showcase his talent this summer.
“Now that I have had a camp season in June, I realize I really did deserve those offers. Before that I was thinking maybe I was not actually good enough because I had not competed in the U.S. yet,” Alinen said. “Now that I have gone against high level defensive ends and got offers from coaches who saw me live (at camp), it was a good thing for my confidence.”
He is ranked No. 186 in the ESPN top 300 and is a top-150 prospect on the 247Sports Composite.
“Olaus has elite size and never stops working. He has terrific length. He’ll only get better as his footwork and flexibility improve,” Loomis Chaffee coach Jeff Moore said.
Alinen’s father, Klaus, was the first Finish player to ever sign a NFL contract. He played for Berlin in NFL Europe and spent a year on the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad.
Olaus played for Finland’s under-17 team when he was 14 and the under-19 team when he was 15. Once he joined Gridiron Imports – a nonprofit foundation designed to place international players at the prep and college level – he got hooked up with Moore, who called him often to convince him to come to Connecticut to attend school and play football.
“We will have a great team this year. Our team, if we find the right chemistry, we can go win New England (conference championship),” Olaus, 17, said.
His father was his football coach when he started playing, but coaches him less on football and more on life now.
“He teaches me about how to be a man and how to take care of a family,” Olaus said. “I hope he gets to come over to watch me play this year, but we have to see how it goes with COVID. Definitely I want him to be here my senior year to see me.”
He obviously learned his early football lessons from his father well, based on the success he’s already having. The junior says he “rarely makes mistakes” on the field.
“I almost always block the right guy. I want to play offensive line in a way that benefits my team and lets my teammates make the right plays to win,” he said. “Obviously my size and athleticism helps me execute, but it’s also more in the head. You have to know what you are doing.
“I consider myself a smart person all-around (he has close to a 4.0 grade-point average). For me it is easy to understand the game of football and how it works. Part of that is the game seems natural and part is my ability to learn stuff really good, whether it is sports or school. I can take coaching and fix things quickly. I also have a good memory and no issue learning the playbook.”
While there was a lot of focus on Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn not transferring to Kentucky and what high school sensation Jalen Duren will do about college, coach John Calipari has not lost track of 6-5 senior shooting guard Shaedon Sharpe of Arizona Compass.
The Canadian is a top-10 player in the 2022 recruiting class by 247Sports and No. 11 on Rivals.com. Sharpe made an official visit to UK in June – his only official visit – and is friends with UK commit Skyy Clark, who recently tore his ACL and will not play again this summer.
Calipari watched Sharpe’s first two games in the Nike league summer play last week when Sharpe scored a combined 59 points and went 8-for-16 from 3-point range.
Sharpe has ties to Kentucky as his summer team director and basketball mentor, Dwayne Washington, coached former UK star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who is now shining in the NBA.
“Shai had a lot of goals, but I really thought it would take him longer than a year (at Kentucky) to be ready for the NBA,” Washington said. “He still has goals left, but he knows it is a process just like Shaedon does.
“Shaedon has taken care of his body and got stronger and wiser just like Shai did. Shai is climbing and his skills are on a steady incline mainly because of the process he has stuck to. It’s similar with Shaedon.
"Shaedon has more pops because of his athleticism. He shoots more like Jamal (Murray). He’s more athletic like a mini Vince Carter. He has worked a lot on his midrange stuff, playing defense, rebounding. He knows he still has work to do to be ready for the next level.”
Like many UK football fans, former UK all-SEC running back Anthony White was surprised that a big reason LSU offensive tackle Dare Rosenthal transferred to Kentucky was the success cornerback Kelvin Joseph, another former LSU transfer, had during his one season at UK in 2020.
White said UK defensive line coach Anwar Stewart told him UK’s “biggest salesperson” with Rosenthal was Joseph and Rosenthal mentioned that in his social media post announcing his decision to transfer to UK.
“You never know what bridge you are burning or not burning,” White said. “We got a second-round draft pick (Joseph) and a big-time transfer (Rosenthal) out of it, too.”
Rosenthal had some off-field issues at LSU, but White said a new school could be just what Rosenthal needs much like it was for Joseph, a second-round NFL draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys.
“Maybe he just needs to be a little farther from home and enjoy the culture that (former UK offensive line coach John) Schlarman set with the Big Blue Wall,” White said. “Now he can sit back and just play. No worry about family members or anything that has happened before.
“He gets a whole new start with a program that admires the offensive line. I think it is a perfect opportunity for a new beginning with him. If you are stressed and get a new start with that type of talent he has, it can turn out special.”
Before Lynn Bowden came to Kentucky to start his memorable football career, he played in the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Basketball Game. Not only was he an all-state football player in Ohio, but he was also an all-state basketball player.
He had several Division I basketball scholarship offers and considered trying to play basketball at Kentucky also.
Looking back, does he still think he was good enough to have played for Calipari?
“Yeah, definitely. I think if I would have stayed (at UK) for another season I would have ended up on the basketball team,” Bowden said at the Somerset Youth Football League Camp.
He also said at the all-star game that people in Kentucky had no idea what he could do on the football field. He went on to set numerous SEC records, get drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders and now plays with the Miami Dolphins.
“When I made that statement, I meant it from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “Same thing with the NFL. I just have to start over and let my field work do the talking for me. Just going to be fun showing people what I can do.”
Kentucky’s starting center this football season figures to be junior Quinton Wilson, but he’s already had one other major accomplishment – he graduated in 2 1/2 years with a degree in management.
“The academic people set me up when I needed help,” Wilson, who has spent time trying to help teammates learn new offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s system, said. “One really important thing when I came here was education. My mom would not be happy if I tried to take it easy off the field. She wanted me to push myself and set myself up for other opportunities after football. It’s important to grow as a whole person and not just a football player.”
Wilson is pursuing his MBA in business. His plan is to be his own boss someday and says “building relationships with faculty in upper level (classes)” can help him do that.
“Whether I am in football or out of football, I still want to benefit from my education and lead a good life,” Wilson said.
Wilson won’t always lead a “good life” in practice because he often has to go against noseguard Marquan McCall, a potential breakout star in the SEC this season.
“I have been going against him for a long time now. He definitely presents challenges,” Wilson said. “He did a good job this spring trying to be disruptive. Every now and then we (the offensive line) get him and it is not just him running over us.
“I know he would hate to admit it, but we do get him. If you can block Marquan, you are confident you can block anybody in this league. He’s that good. Our whole defensive line is really a good group of guys. They all compete at a high level. They are fun to watch, but not always fun to go against.”
If you are excited about the upcoming Kentucky football season, this is merely a tease to keep you excited about upcoming seasons.
ESPN recently released its new top-200 rankings for the 2022 recruiting class and three Kentucky commits remain solidly among the nation’s elite players.
The highest rated commit remains 6-7, 305-pound Kiyaunta Goodwin. The offensive lineman from Charleston, Ind., near Louisville moved up to 74th nationally.
Four-star outside linebacker Keaten Wade of Tennessee dropped slightly, but still remains inside the top 200 players at No. 197. Sources say he impressed UK coaches more than even they expected at his summer camp appearance.
His twin brother, Destin, stayed in the top 300 at No. 284. He’s listed as an athlete because of his ability to play a variety of spots in college, but intends to play quarterback at Kentucky – and it seems UK coaches are more than OK with him being the only quarterback signee in the 2022 recruiting class.
Two other players who Kentucky seems to have a great chance to sign are also in the top 300. Frederick Douglass receiver Dane Key, the son of former UK linebacker Donte Key, is No. 214 and Ohio offensive tackle Aamil Wagner, who had a brother play at UK, comes in at 119 and would be a huge addition for the Big Blue Wall.
Kentucky has eight other commitments – offensive tackle Grant Bingham, athlete Treyveon Longmire, athlete Jeremiah Caldwell, athlete Alex Afari, cornerback Andre Stewart, offensive tackle Nikolas Hall, tight end Josh Kattus and kicker Jackson Smith – in its 2022 recruiting class.
Quote of the Week: “Man, one thing about him is he stays in kill mode all game long, no matter what's going on. If you're thinking you need to hold the ball with like 40-some seconds left and you might be up four, five, Book going to shoot it. He going to let it ride. That's just his mindset, which you got to appreciate,” Chris Paul, on Phoenix Suns teammate Devin Booker.
Quote of the Week 2: “PJ's a tremendous player. I think he's continuing to keep getting better and I think the sky's the limit for him in Charlotte. I think he's a great stretch four, can play the five and he's just continuing to get better every time I see him on the court. I'm excited for his future,” Tyler Herro, on former UK teammate PJ Washington.
Quote of the Week 3: “Anybody can be him. I won’t knock nobody. When you say that, it is a lot you have to fill. We will see what he can do,” former UK star Lynn Bowden, when asked if Wan’Dale Robinson could be the next Lynn Bowden.