Imposing sophomore sets weightlifting records, racks up tackles

EUGENE Ñ Before somebody showed him the football field, Igor Olshansky found the weight room.

'It became my calling,' says Olshansky, the mammoth defensive tackle who holds University of Oregon football records for bench press and clean and ranks third in squat.

Before he found the weight room, his Ukrainian parents put Olshansky in gymnastics.

'I can do the splits,' he says.

Put them together Ñ strength and flexibility Ñ and you have quite an athlete in the 6-6, 306-pound Olshansky, a sophomore from San Francisco. Recruited as a project player who had spent only two years in prep football, Olshansky nailed down a starting defensive tackle spot this season with the Ducks.

Line coach Steve Greatwood calls Olshansky the strongest defensive tackle he's ever seen. Greatwood has coached at Oregon, USC, Maryland and with the St. Louis Rams.

'He's done an amazing job in the weight room,' Greatwood says. 'He's exceptional.'

Olshansky can bench-press 480 pounds and clean 385. He has done 570 in the squat, which ranks behind Zack Freiter (631, 2000) and Rollin Putzier (616, 1987) in school history. Olshansky has increased each category by 50 pounds, at least, since arriving at Oregon.

'I don't know if I want to be bigger; you want to keep your speed,' Olshansky says. 'But I'll never be satisfied with being strong enough or fast enough.'

Olshansky entered his freshman year in high school at 6-5, 215 and exited at 240. He wanted to be a basketball player until he got big and physical and 'wanted to hit somebody.'

The raw defensive lineman caught the attention of Duck recruiters, who saw potential because of his height and strength.

'He could get away with poor technique in high school,' Greatwood says. 'He found out in a hurry (here) it doesn't work. We were very impressed with how coachable and eager he was.'

After a redshirt year, the Ducks waited and waited for Olshansky to pick up the defensive system. The coaches went with senior Chris Tetterton and Freiter at tackle most of last year. In fact, had Tetterton not suffered nagging injuries down the stretch and in the Fiesta Bowl, Olshansky would not have played as much as he did.

This year, despite the Ducks' recruitment of prep phenom Haloti Ngata and junior college standout Junior Siavii, Olshansky won one of the starting tackle jobs.

'Doesn't matter who starts,' says Olshansky, who last week had an interception and showed his athleticism galloping toward the end zone. 'We rotate.'

Olshansky's family emigrated from the Ukraine when he was 7. They had a good life there in Dnepropetrovsk (pronounced 'Igor's hometown'), a city of 1 million, but his mom and dad wanted an even better life.

His father, about 6-foot, 230 pounds, played basketball, volleyball and soccer. His mother stood 5-10. He had good genes to be a large football player. As soon as Oregon showed an interest in him, he says, Cal, Washington, Washington State and Oregon State followed.

As a freshman, 'I was 276 pounds with 9 percent body fat, and I looked like I could play,' Olshansky says. 'No way I was ready. Only playing football for two years Ñ consciously for a half year Ñ you don't just wake up and play and know what's going on.'

So, he went to work on becoming a major-college football player, starting in the weight room. He added 30 pounds to an already imposing frame.

A weight nut? 'Coming in, he was,' Greatwood says. 'Now he's getting much more balance in the way he trains. We've talked to him about getting his body more fluid. He understands that football is a game of movement, coordination and balance.'

Still, Olshansky wants the squat record.

'I'll get it,' he says. 'Absolutely.'

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