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By KEN PETERS AP Sports Writer
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Ben Olson doesn't regret leaving Brigham Young to serve a Mormon church mission and then winding up at UCLA.
"Some people don't really quite understand what you do on a mission. You're not out there working out, improving as an athlete," the Bruins' 24-year-old quarterback said. "Your focus is other people. That was my life for two years.
"I didn't drop back, I didn't read defenses, I didn't do anything like that. I do believe I was able to gain experience and gain wisdom in other areas of life that I've hopefully been able to apply to the football field and hopefully make me a better player."
Although he left BYU after his redshirt freshman season in 2002 and spent just one semester in Provo, he will go up against some old friends Saturday when he leads the 13th-ranked Bruins (1-0) against BYU (1-0) at the Rose Bowl.
"He was a good buddy of mine, and he did leave us," Cougars safety Corby Hodgkiss said. "For him, he felt it was the best decision to make at the time.
"It's not really about Ben Olson against BYU. It's just another game. It's BYU against UCLA. We don't take that into consideration as we're preparing for UCLA that we're going to knock out Ben Olson because he left us."
Olson, one of the most highly regarded quarterbacks in the nation when he came out of high school in Thousand Oaks, Calif., also downplayed the reunion with BYU, saying he's no more motivated than for any other game.
"I have motivation whoever the opponent is. Whoever it is out there on Saturdays, it's a big game," he said. "I went to BYU for a reason and had a great experience there, but I chose to go on a mission, and when I came back from my mission, I was just kind of at a different place in life.
"I just decided that I wanted to pursue other options and UCLA's been a great place for me and I'm so glad that I made the decision to come here."
Olson, a redshirt junior, started the first five games for the Bruins last season before being sidelined by a knee injury. He began this season with a bang, passing for 286 yards and five touchdowns in UCLA's 45-17 victory at Stanford.
"Obviously it's just one game. Saturday's over. We're looking forward to BYU," said Olson, who also had a big opener last year, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-10 win over Utah before not performing as well afterward.
The Bruins figure to have their hands full with the Cougars, a Mountain West Conference power with an 11-game winning streak.
The Cougars are coming off a season-opening 20-7 victory over Arizona, like UCLA a member of the Pac-10. BYU quarterback Max Hall was impressive in his college debut, going 26-for-39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Hall hadn't played a game since his senior year in high school four years ago. Like Olson, he served a church mission, leaving Arizona State after redshirting in 2004. When he returned, he transferred to BYU and, since he was ineligible to play last season because of NCAA transfer rules, served on the Cougars' scout team.
Bronco Mendenhall, beginning his third season as BYU's coach, said he hasn't met Olson.
"I have heard stories about what kind of player he is and I certainly had a chance to watch him on film and he is very talented," Mendenhall said. "When I became the head coach, I had a conversation with his father, but it became clear that his intentions were to transfer. I wished him well.
"I think in both cases, neither one of us has any regrets. I can't speak for Ben or his family, but John (Beck) ended up being developed at a very high level, and I think Max is going to follow suit."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-09-07-07 1506MDT