He is the son of a New York City firefighter who was promoted to lieutenant three days before Sept. 11, 2001. Because of that, Andy Olsen was in Queens undergoing training when the terrorists struck and not on duty in Manhattan.
''He wasn't at ground zero, so that pretty much saved his life,'' Olsen said of his father.
Eight years after the attack that killed more than 2,750 people, including 343 firefighters, that day still seems surreal to Olsen.
''It feels like it was a movie. Being from Staten Island, not being in Lower Manhattan, even though it was on TV and the news, no one could believe something that bad was going on,'' he said.
He was in eighth grade math class at Intermediate School 24 when the attacks occurred. The first sign something was going on was the number of students being called down to the main office. Olsen's first thought was that a lot of students must have doctor appointments that day.
Then he got called down. A school official told him about the attacks. A neighbor drove him home. He got there just in time to catch his mother, Joanne, pulling out of the driveway. She was an emergency room nurse and was called in to work to help treat the survivors.
''She was like, 'Listen, Grandma's at the house. Just hang out. I'll be home as soon as possible,''' Olsen said.
She told him quickly that his father, Andy, had been in Queens but was headed to Manhattan. They didn't hear from him for more than 30 hours.
''That was a tough moment because obviously we saw the fires in the building and then we watched them collapse and they're saying people are inside, firefighters and stuff. We were all like, 'Was my Dad in there?' It was really tough because no cell phones worked or anything,'' he said. ''That was one of the really toughest moments.''
Olsen said his father didn't tell him much about what happened that day, not until he was at Notre Dame. A newspaper story about his father led to a family discussion. Andy Olsen recalled how he joined other firefighters digging and finding a crushed fire truck.
''When they uncovered enough he realized it was one of his old (fire)house's,'' Olsen said. ''That was a moment when his heart fell into his stomach. Unfortunately, all those guys were victims.''
The talk that night brought Olsen closer to his father. He thinks it was good for his father, too.
''Stuff that he kept bottled in, like the fears he had and the feelings that he felt, the survivor's guilt. Just some of the stuff he saw as gruesome and detailed as it was. To keep all that stuff bottled in and think about that and have it on his mind, I don't think it was good for him,'' he said. ''I think it was really good for him to get it out in the open and talk about it.''
One of Olsen's classmates the day of the attacks was John Ferrara, now Michigan's backup right guard. The two had become best friends in middle school.
''We had a bond right from day one walking in the door at I.S. 24,'' Olsen said. ''We were both a head taller than everyone else in the class. That just kind of drew us to each other.''
Their dads got along well, too, because Ferrara's father was a New York City police officer.
The two drifted apart when they went to different high schools. They got back in touch, though, during recruiting and have kept in touch despite playing for rival teams. The 18th-ranked Irish (1-0) face the Wolverines on Saturday.
When Notre Dame was struggling through a 3-9 season, Ferrara encouraged Olsen. Last season, Olsen returned the favor as the Wolverines went 3-9.
''I just kind of gave him a heads up to make sure the team keeps working hard and everyone kind of keeps their head on straight and no one throws in the towel because that's what it's going to take to turn the ship around,'' Olsen said.
It's that kind of leadership that got Olsen elected captain of the Irish. He's known as a smart, tough player who switched from guard to center this offseason because that's where he was needed. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said Olsen wasn't content just being another lineman, he wanted to be the one making the blocking calls and anchoring the line.
''He wanted to be the guy everyone was counting on,'' Weis said.
Olsen said he tries to emulate his father, who is now retired.
''I try to take that kind of mentality from my dad and that toughness,'' he said. ''Any time you can put that kind of passion and emotion into something it can definitely put you ahead.''