Good News: Blind USC long-snapper makes team, hopes to play in games

September 21, 2015
USC's Reid Budrovich, left, guides teammate Jake Olson, through the field during practice at Howard Jones Field in Los Angeles. Jake Olson, the blind long snapper from Orange Lutheran High, participated in his first practice as a member of the USC football team Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. (Ed Crisostomo/The Orange County Register via AP)

USC’s Reid Budrovich, left, guides teammate Jake Olson, through the field during practice at Howard Jones Field in Los Angeles. Jake Olson, the blind long snapper from Orange Lutheran High, participated in his first practice as a member of the USC football team Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. (Ed Crisostomo/The Orange County Register via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jake Olson pulled that beloved cardinal-and-gold jersey over his shoulder pads and went down the Coliseum tunnel. He snapped the ball during warmups and then stood on the Southern California sideline with his fellow freshmen, firing up fans and encouraging the Trojans until the final whistle.

USC’s blind long-snapper realized a dream Saturday night when he wore the uniform that was one of his favorite sights before he lost both eyes to cancer.

Olson is one step closer to his ultimate goal of playing college football, but No. 61 is thrilled simply to be part of the team.

“It was awesome,” Olson said after the game with his service dog, Quebec, by his side. “Just having the helmet on with the Trojans insignia on it, and just having that cardinal-and-gold jersey on was just … I’ve idolized those guys for so many years, so I can only imagine kids and fans up in the stands looking down at those pretty jerseys and helmets. I was just in awe.”

Olson has fond memories of that view. A USC football practice was one of the final things he saw before he lost his sight completely.

Six years later, Olson joined practice with his teammates last week, and he suited up for the Trojans’ 41-31 loss to Stanford. On Tuesday, he’ll be back working with the Trojans’ special-teamers and preparing for a chance to perform under the Coliseum lights.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian has said he expects Olson to play for USC eventually. Until then, Olson is content to keep working on the skills he honed playing for his high school in Orange, California, where teammates lined him up and let him do his thing.

“Well, I mean, I just started practice,” Olson said. “I’m just out there showing people what I’ve got. I want to be treated like everyone else, so I don’t want any special treatment in the sense of putting me above any other long-snapper that’s on the team, just because I am who I am. I want to work my way up to it, and I’m only a freshman. … When the day comes, I just want to be out there and snap like everyone else, and make PATs and field goals all night long.”

Olson got several ovations from USC fans while he walked the sideline, and he is grateful for the inspiration he can provide to anyone in a fight.

“Everyone is going to go through adversity, but it’s what you do with adversity, how you come out of it,” Olson said. “So I do want to get that message out there, because if you’re blind, if you’re physically challenged in any way, mentally challenged in any way, whatever the adversity that comes your way, it’s not something to stop you. It’s only there for you to overcome.”

Olson lives his message. Along with his football career, he golfs, surfs, writes and occasionally drives former USC coach Pete Carroll’s jet ski on Lake Washington.

After the game, Olson’s dejection from the defeat was mixed with undeniable elation from the experience. But disappointment doesn’t rule Olson.

“I’m not the one to complain,” Olson said. “If I were to complain about everything that happened to me on a daily basis, trust me, you wouldn’t think I’d be going through it well. I just don’t. I don’t choose to focus on that stuff, just because what’s the point?”

Olson has been on the Coliseum sideline before with Carroll and his national title-contending USC teams. His spirit and optimism were ingrained in the program before he even pulled on the uniform.

“For Jake to be playing football, it’s not even a surprise, knowing who he is,” Carroll said this week in Seattle. “It’s remarkable that he’s come this far, and the magnitude of his future and (what) he’s going to contribute to society and culture, we don’t even know.”

Olson is on a special athletic scholarship at USC, and he already feels a comfort level with the Trojans. In fact, his biggest challenges this fall might be in academics, not athletics.

“It’s been tough,” Olson said. “Not being able to see and just walking to classes and all that – doing anything without sight is challenging, but I learn. The first month of college has been an adjustment, but I’m learning how to do things, and I’ve got my buddy Quebec here, so we’re a team. I’ve got a lot of friends, and USC is a great place.”

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