USC long snapper Jake Olson has inspired the sports world during the Trojans’ 2017 season. During USC’s home game against Oregon State, he completed his second live snap of the year.
Jake Olson, USC's blind long snapper, just completed his second career snap in a live game: pic.twitter.com/Kz4q6TujUs— Keely Eure (@keelyismyname) October 7, 2017
Olson, who was born with retinoblastoma (a cancer of the retina) and had to have both of his eyes surgically removed by the age of 12, made his first career appearance when he made the snap for USC’s final extra point of the game in the Trojans’ opener against Western Michigan..
This is anything but a regular PAT.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 3, 2017
Jake Olson, blind since age 12, just snapped for the first time in a live game. https://t.co/amyHcFoVue
1. Olson has a long and inspiring backstory.
Most college football fans first learned his name in 2009, when he was featured on a segment during ESPN’s College GameDay. When Olson and his family were told that his eyes would have to be removed, Olson wanted to see his Trojans one last time. Trojans head coach Pete Carroll made it happen:
"I'm just sad I won't be able to see them ever again," Jake said. "It's so hard, and yet cancer wins. But I'm going to experience something no one else can experience."
With more than a month before his surgery, Jake told his parents that what he wanted to see most one last time was another USC Trojans game. His wish reached Trojan head coach, Pete Carroll.
"The first thing was let's make sure that he gets inside and gets to see everything that he wants to see," Carroll said. "God bless him; he deserves every bit of it."
From then on, and after his surgery, Olson became an honorary member of the USC football team. He eventually made his high school team as a long snapper, then walked on for USC’s team in 2015.
2. Olson’s first snap was actually thanks to USC’s opposition, Western Michigan.
USA Today’s George Schroeder reported that Saturday’s special moment all started with an email exchange between USC coach Clay Helton and his WMU counterpart, Tim Lester.
When Helton outlined his idea — he wanted to get Jake Olson, who is blind, into the game to snap for an extra point — Lester was all for it.
That wasn’t all. When Lester agreed, Helton told him, “OK, here’s my email address.” Before allowing Olson to play, USC’s doctors needed to know Lester was on board with the plan.
“I give him all the credit,” Lester said. “That’s not an easy conversation. He was just being honest about a player he really cared for. He said he was gonna call every coach and just hope he gets it done. … He was just very nice in asking and he said he understood if I didn’t want to do it. He wasn’t forcing it down my throat, by any means.
“I didn’t think it was a hard decision at all. It was bigger than the game. I was happy to be a part of it.”
For Olson to be medically cleared, certain conditions had to be met. Major college football isn’t a place where teams go easy on each other, so the coaches had to hash out an agreement:
“It was a weird conversation to have,” Lester said, “but when you’re having this weird conversation for a good reason? We were talking about what’s out of hand, what’s not out of hand, but it was for a good purpose, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a young man.”
As part of the deal, when Western Michigan scored its first touchdown, USC didn’t rush the extra point.
“Our first PAT was on air, basically,” Lester said. “And if the situation ever arose, he was gonna call timeout and look over at me. The officials were in on it. Then I could bring our guys over and explain what was going on.”
3. Carroll “couldn’t stop crying” after seeing Olson’s snap.
After his Seattle Seahawks practice on Monday, the former Trojan head coach was asked about seeing the moment:
That was an incredible moment. I’m so glad that (USC) Coach (Clay) Helton figured out a way to create the opportunity for Jake to show what he could do. This is just an extraordinary young man. Jake has done stuff throughout his life. From the time he was 10 years old, he has been doing remarkable things—he wrote his first book at 10—and onward. For a guy to out there and play in a college football game, snap a ball, they kick the extra point and make it, that’s just something, that’s just something about Jake. Jake’s a huge story. He’s one for all of us about courage and character and grit and vision and special qualities that few people would be able to hold onto.
He’s going to be a big factor. We’re all going to see him do a lot of stuff in this world. There’s nothing holding Jake back. I was so excited to see it, I couldn’t stop crying. It was thrilling. It was good to see a Trojan win too, but it was really something.
4. Olson once aspired to be the first blind golfer on the PGA Tour.
I don’t know if Jake was thinking about being a snapper when he was 11 or 12, but what Jake wanted to do, he wanted to play in the Masters.
He wanted to go to that course before he lost his sight, he wanted to go walk that course so he’d always have the vision of what the course looked like in his mind first-hand so that when he went back to play it when he couldn’t see, he could still play and win the thing. Think of that. And that’s before he had a golf swing.
He has an extraordinary golf swing (now); he can hit the heck out of the ball.
Golf Digest’s Joel Beall has more:
"Probably for a good six months to a year I was trying to make consistent solid contact on the ball," Olson said. "There had been days that were total frustration, throwing clubs, not seeing results, just frustrating. But I wasn't going to let it stop me."
With the help of a caddie — usually his dad, Brian — he played on the Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High varsity golf team.
"It's a simple routine," Brian said. "Get him lined up, get the club behind ball, and then I back away. My main role is to get his club squared up behind the ball."
As one can imagine, unfamiliar terrain or bad lies can be trouble. Still, Olson routinely shot in the 80s, with a career-best of 78.
5. After USC’s win, Olson’s adorable guide dog, Quebec, got to celebrate in the winning locker room.
Quebec has been by Jake’s side for six years now.
USC long-snapper Jake Olson greeted after the game by his family and his service dog, Quebec. pic.twitter.com/ma2r1uj2BB— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) September 3, 2017
6. This Los Angeles Times story beautifully captures the scene during and after the snap.
It’s from Bill Plaschke, who wrote about the moment perfectly.
Turns out, USC’s blind long snapper saw it better than anyone.
“There’s a beauty in it,” Olson said, still sweating through his uniform early Saturday evening. “If you can’t see how God works things out, then I think you’re the blind one.”
He also gave us a glimpse of what Helton told his team before the big moment:
“I told them the entire situation and said, ‘You can’t touch him, you can’t yell at him, everybody get down so it looks like a football play but nobody move,’” Lester recalled. “I told them, ‘What we’re about to do is bigger than the game. This is about what kind of people we want to be, what we represent; this is bigger than us.’”
And what did they say?
“They said, ‘Yes sir.’”
Another L.A. Times story from 2016 touches on how the USC program helped Olson get through accepting his blindness in the final days before his surgery:
Olson attended strategy meetings and enthusiastically encouraged players in the locker room and on the sideline at games. He chose to spend his last day with sight at a USC practice.
"There were nights of crying and stressful times when I couldn't get the thought of going blind out of my psyche," Olson said. "But every time I was up at SC or talking to one of the players or just being around, it was just pure fun.
"And, truthfully, pure peace."
7. The Pac-12 gave Olson a special award for the week, too.
He was named the special teams player of the week for his outing.
8. He’s not done. Not even close.
In addition to being a media celebrity again, he’s still working toward his degree at USC, and he says his next football goal is to compete in a game during a meaningful snap, rather than toward the end of a decided game. And now he’s inspiring other blind young people across the country to seek their own goals.