Dante Olson (33) played in 10 games for Montana and was Academic All-Big Sky for the second year. [PHOTO FROM MONTANA]

What's in a name? For Olson, plenty

Of Montana's 47 fall-sport student-athletes who this week were named Academic All-Big Sky Conference, it's likely none understands the value of the generational hand-me-down more so than Dante Olson, a third-year member of the Griz football team.

As far as he knows, he's at least a fifth-generation Dante, a name of meaning in his family that connects them to their Mediterranean roots, an outward expression of the Italian blood that flows within and with pride, at odds with his Oregon upbringing and northern European surname.

"It's kind of a family history that's been passed down from generation to generation," says Olson, who ranked 10th on the team in tackles in the fall and has a 3.88 GPA as a management major, which earned him Academic All-Big Sky honors for the second straight year.

"My great-great-grandpa was named it, then my great-grandpa, then my grandpa, then my uncle. Then I was named it to keep it in the family. It's a cool thing, with how my family came over from Italy. It keeps the family history and tradition going."

Just like he knows the importance of the lessons he took from the generation of Griz football players who came before him, the upperclassmen who passed on their learned wisdom of how to give the sport and the team his everything, without sacrificing anything academically.

A linebacker who will be a redshirt junior in the fall, Olson would do the same should he ever be asked to address the program's incoming freshmen. He's an exemplar of striking the student-athlete balance, someone who has found the way to succeed in both.

"Just like some of the older guys said to me when I came in," Olson says. "I would tell them to show up every day to class and listen and pay attention, because that's half the battle. And stay up on your work, because once you get behind, it can be really tough to catch back up."

Olson played in all 11 games last season, meaning five road trips that ate up two days at a time. Not to mention the usual Sunday-through-Friday grind of preparing for autumn Saturdays, themselves mostly full-day commitments.

"It's been difficult. It's a lot of time and energy and late-night studying. You learn time-management real quickly when you are off on your own for the first time and have to have the balance between football and school, that's for sure," he says.

But who better to find that balance than the son of a successful football coach and a college teacher? All he's done is split those genes in half, allowing both to express themselves.

His father, Jeff Olson, spent 24 years in the football program at Southern Oregon in Ashland, first as a player, then as an assistant, then as head coach from 1996-2004. He led his 2001 and '02 teams to the NAIA national quarterfinals and was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2011.

Today he's the head of the College and Career Center at Cascade Christian High, a father who put family first years ago when he stepped away from the all-consuming coaching profession to follow and support his son in his own athletic pursuits.

Linda Natali Olson, who brought the Italian into the family, is a writing professor at Rogue Community College.

"Growing up, they kind of instilled in me to do my best in everything. If you do that, if you give your best effort, good things will come," says Olson. "The more time I put into academics or football, the better I do. All they asked was that I give whatever I'm doing my best."

Dante Alighieri lived in Italy more than 700 years ago, but his epic poem, the Divine Comedy, carries on as one of literature's great works. The poem was Dante's vision of the afterlife, but its three parts can readily be applied to the other Dante's life in the here and now, particularly the football side.

The Divine Comedy's first two parts? Inferno, when Dante is guided by Virgil through what he imagines are the nine circles of Hell, which they survive, followed by Purgatorio.

In Olson's first two years on the field, Montana missed out on the playoffs, which led to a coaching change in November. The result was a period of uncertainty for everyone, from those within the program to the legion of Griz fans who feel their own ownership in what happens.

Former coach Bobby Hauck was announced as Montana's new head coach on Nov. 30, putting an end to the program's short holding period.

Everyone can only hope his return brings with it the success of years past and mirrors Olson's journey to what could very well be his namesake's, written about more than seven centuries ago. The Divine Comedy's third and final section and the end of Dante's journey? Paradiso.

"It was definitely a surprise how things happened, but after meeting some of the new coaches and having some team meetings with coach Hauck, I'm really excited for what's to come. I'm excited for Griz football this year, that's for sure," says Olson.

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