How Gunner Olszewski navigated football, without football

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By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

It's been a tough start to the season for Patriots receiver Gunner Olszewski. After a strong training camp, a foot injury landed him on IR before Week 1. That kept him sidelined for September. He returned to the practice field for the week leading up to the Chiefs game, but then was forced back off for the next two weeks due to the team's COVID cases.

Friday wrapped up just the second week of in-person practices the 23-year-old has gotten to take part in this season. How has he managed to stay in a rhythm despite not having a constant enough schedule to build a routine?

"It ain't been hard, you know. We're professionals," Olszewski said on Friday. "I think the guys that were up here in the off season, we found a way to get what we need to do in, without being in the facility, obviously. So, I mean, it's on you. You know, you can figure it out one way or another. You just got to figure something out."

Although he made it sound easy at first, Olszewski says the virtual meetings really took a toll.

"I'll tell you, it's awful," he said of the two weeks the team spent meeting online following a string of positive COVID tests. "I don't know how y'all do it, sitting at a desk all day staring at a computer. It's tough to do because you don't get to let off any steam, you know?"

Oct 5, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (80) catches a pass against Kansas City Chiefs free safety Juan Thornhill (22) during the second quarter of a NFL game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

"I can't speak for anybody else, but I don't love meetings. I love playing football," Olszewski continued. "But the meetings are important. So when you have to go to meetings and you don't get to go on a field and use what you just learned, it's tough because you're like 'man', and it's tough just sitting at a desk all day and not getting to go on the field and do it."

Olszewski says meeting virtually and not having a chance to turn instruction into practice presented a new kind of challenge for him.

"So when you just have the meetings and you don't get to go on the field, it feels - they feel longer," the Bemidji State product explained. "But it takes mental toughness just to stay locked in. And you have to or else you'll fall behind. So it's a lot tougher when you've got to be all virtual."

Going two weeks without being in the facility felt "wrong," according to Olszewski, who compared it to "collecting a check when you don't go to work all week."

Without access to the fields behind Gillette Stadium or teammates to work with, Olszewski stayed sharp by setting up his own practices at home.

"You just do what you can. A lot of it for me - it's just mentally doing it in your head," he said. "I mean, go walk around your backyard and gather...I like to record the plays and then listen to them. But that's just my thing. And I can kind of picture myself in the huddle."

Oct 18, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (right) runs Denver Broncos special teams player Tyrie Cleveland (16) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

"I think everybody has a way because when we came back, it started - the ball was rolling," he continued. "And I think everybody was ready so I think we did a good job paying attention in those meetings, as hard as it was. Lot of coffee."

Of course, he was happy to be back at practice this week and return to some sort of normalcy. And he's not alone.

"[Practice] is our job. I think everybody we have here loves doing it," he explained. "I mean, that's what we get paid for. That's what we'd like to be doing."

Assuming things keep trending in the right direction, the Patriots should be back at practice for the foreseeable future. No more sitting at a desk all day, imaginary teammates, or coffee splurges.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].