Joe Olson saw just one defender keeping him from the end zone.

The Bozeman graduate and Montana State signee was simply exhilarated to be back playing in a football game for the first time in nine months. But he also wanted to score.

With more than 10 minutes left in the first quarter of the Badlands Bowl Saturday, Olson went out for a pass on a swing route, caught the ball and tried to make a cut to avoid the defender. When he planted, he heard his knee pop. His leg became limp, and he fell over.

He thought his knee was simply sprained or strained. He exited the game, but his pain wasn’t overwhelming. The news afterward was crushing.

Olson will miss the 2019 season with a torn ACL in his right knee, an MRI confirmed earlier this week. He’ll undergo surgery within a month’s time and estimates he will return to football-related activities next summer.

“I was pretty devastated. I was pretty sad about it because I just got back into football and that happened. Now I have to wait a whole year to get back into it,” Olson said. “It was definitely pretty frustrating.”

Olson hadn’t dealt with an injury of this magnitude until his senior year at Bozeman. The 6-foot, 195-pound running back broke the radius in his left arm on Sept. 28, ending his season. He finished 2018 with 974 rushing yards in six games.

Still, he said he doesn’t regret playing in the Badlands Bowl, an all-star game between Montana and North Dakota players which Montana won 41-14 in Miles City.

“I was pretty excited,” Olson said. “It was still a fun time, and I made a lot of good friends from it. It was a good experience overall. Can’t really control something like that. There’s definitely a lot of what-ifs in this situation, but nothing you can really dwell on now.”

Olson verbally committed to MSU last summer after he caught the attention of the Bobcats’ coaching staff during offseason camps. He signed alongside Bozeman teammate Ryan Lonergan in December to join an MSU roster with five other former Hawks.

“Really dynamic player,” Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate said of Olson during the team’s early signing day announcement in December. “When you watch his highlight film, you can see he’s got that great combination all great running backs have: balance, speed, vision. He’s just got a really good feel for the game.

“Really hard guy to get down and just a tough Montana kid. I love his demeanor and what he’s going to bring to the table, adding value to our backfield.”

Olson said he received support from MSU’s coaches after he informed them of the situation. Olson isn’t yet sure what his exact status with the team will be, but he will stay involved with the program in some capacity and figures he will take the season to learn the team’s system.

Olson has already started rehabilitation to keep his knee relaxed and limit swelling before his surgery in a few weeks. Then he will face about a year of physical therapy to help him strengthen his ligaments and decrease risk of re-injury. He will also lift weights during that time.

Olson knows he has to take care of his body to avoid injuries but feels his have been mostly coincidence.

The most important thing he learned from his broken arm, he said, was mental resilience. He hopes he comes back from his latest injury even stronger than before.

“It’s definitely very frustrating, but the way I look at it, there’s no point in dwelling on what already happened,” Olson said. “I’m just trying to focus on what I need to do to get back. I don’t think looking at it with a negative outlook is going to help anything, so you may as well look at it as how you can get better.”

Colton Pool can be reached at or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.