LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jake Olson completely lost his sight six years ago. He still has his dream of playing football at Southern California.
The blind long-snapper is one step closer to the Coliseum after practicing with the Trojans on Tuesday.
Olson impressed his teammates during his first official practice at USC, where the freshman is on a special scholarship for physically challenged athletes. Eligibility issues had kept him out of uniform this fall until he joined the sixth-ranked Trojans for a rainy morning workout.
“I’m proud of the work that he put in,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “It’s a real credit to a lot of people to get this done.”
Wearing a No. 17 yellow non-contact jersey, Olson spent the morning working with the Trojans’ special-teamers, including starting long-snapper Zach Smith. Although Olson wasn’t made available to the media, he expressed his excitement to USC’s official website.
“It was a surreal feeling,” Olson told the website. “I’m excited to help this team in any way I can and be a great teammate. I love this team and I always have, and now it feels great to be a part of it.”
Olson was the long-snapper on field goal attempts for his high school team in Orange, California. He gets help from teammates to line up properly, putting his hand on the shoulder of the player next to him as they walk to the line, but takes care of the rest himself.
“He just said it was awesome to wear the Trojan helmet,” said Reid Budrovich, a USC punter who played against Olson in high school. “They were great snaps today. He is definitely not out of shape right now. He is right in his prime. ... I think it’s really inspirational for the team, just seeing him out here. It’s lifting spirits and bringing us together.”
Olson is a lifelong Trojans fan who has been around the program since Pete Carroll was the coach in 2009, the same year Olson completely lost his sight.
He lost his left eye to a rare form of retinal cancer at 10 months old. His right eye was removed when he was 12 years old after numerous attempts to save it. He asked to watch the Trojans’ practice on the night before his surgery.
“He doesn’t use an excuse,” quarterback Cody Kessler said. “He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t use it as a crutch or anything. We don’t see that at all. We don’t think anything different about him. He’s the same as all of us. He puts his pads on the same way. He works out the same way. He comes out here and practices just as hard as anyone else. It’s just an awesome feeling.”
Olson has been around the team since enrolling at USC this year, but he couldn’t suit up in training camp because the Trojans didn’t have a roster spot for another 2015 scholarship player, and he couldn’t walk on because of his Swim With Mike scholarship.
Sarkisian praised the NCAA for working with the school to clear up the red tape.
“Jake is just part of the team like the other freshmen,” Sarkisian said. “He doesn’t really want to be treated any differently, and that’s what I appreciate about Jake. He comes to every meeting. He’s there. He’s attentive. He’s on time or early. He came out to practice. He had on the proper attire, and he practiced.”
Sarkisian has repeatedly said he expects Olson to snap in a game for the Trojans one day, although it isn’t imminent. The freshman is simply grateful to keep learning and supporting his teammates until he gets a shot.
Olson made a post on his Twitter account later Tuesday: “First practice was so much fun! Love this team! Thanks to everyone!”