Blind since 12, Jake Olson sees a path onto the football field at USC

Jake Olson (right) is an inspiring figure on and off the USC football roster.

LOS ANGELES — A tall blond male walks toward the USC football practice in a Seattle Seahawks T-shirt and black sunglasses with his hands full. In his right hand is the shoulder of a sports information director, and his left holds the harness of a relaxed yellow lab.

This is Jake Olson — and Quebec, his Seeing Eye dog. Olson was born with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina that cost Olson his left eye when he was 10 months old and his right eye at the age of 12.

Now Olson is a 19-year-old redshirt freshman at USC majoring in business administration. He’s also a long snapper for the Trojans’ football team.

“Growing up a huge Trojan fan really makes me appreciate the significance of putting on a jersey and being part of the team, it’s a very special time and thing that I get to do,” said Olson, who is 6-4, 195 pounds from Huntington Beach. “More than that I just love football. I love the game of football, I love the camaraderie that goes on within a team and just being out there and playing the great game.”.

On Saturday Olson took the field to a standing ovation in USC’s spring game and delivered two perfect snaps on field goal attempts. Years ago he started his football journey playing flag football on his middle school’s team. In his junior year of high school, Olson played his first tackle football game.

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“My freshman and sophomore year I wanted to play, but I didn’t think I could,” Olson said. “I didn’t think there was a position on the team that I could benefit the team and actually be an asset out there.”.

The tie to Trojan football, though, has been one nearly a decade in the making and owes its roots to a former coach no longer in Cardinal and Gold.

USC’s blind long snapper participates in spring game.

Seven years ago former USC coach Pete Carroll, who had heard of Jake’s story, invited him to practice before he lost his eyesight.

“It was something Jake could rely on, and it would be so uplifting when we would go to practice and all the guys would come over after — I’ve never seen him happier in my life which is crazy when you think the night before he’s going to go blind, he’s smiling like a doofus on the field,” said Emma Olson, Jake’s twin sister, a psychology major at USC.

“It was crazy to see but those guys loved him. I think it started out as like, ‘Oh here’s this kid, let’s give him a good experience,’ but we genuinely built amazing relationships with these players. I didn’t ever expect that to come out of it, but those people were there for him.”.

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Now, being able to put on the jersey and walk into the Coliseum is a dream come true.

“I’d been able to walk out of the tunnel a couple times back when I was here in 2009, and a couple times in Seattle, but never with a uniform on, and that just makes it much more cool,” Jake Olson said. “It is one of my favorite parts.”.

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His favorite memories, however, come away from the field, in time spent in the weight room with former strength and conditioning coaching intern Nick Donnelly. Donnelly, now the head strength and conditioning coach for the Arena Football League’s LA Kiss, shared similar sentiments.

“He changed my whole perspective on coaching, it was one of the most moving experiences, and I feel like I impacted his life in a positive way in the weight room,” Donnelly said. “It’s a blast to work with 5-star athletes, but it’s about more than getting strong, it’s about being a teacher and a mentor, it was one of the best things that have ever happened in my life.”.

Donnelly expressed the initial difficulty in working with a blind athlete and the fear of something going wrong in the weight room, but after the third day, Olson spoke up.

“He says to me, ‘Coach Nick, I’m not made out of glass, I’m fine,'” Donnelly said. “He doesn’t want sympathy, he doesn’t want you to walk on your toes with him. He wants to be treated like a Division-1 athlete. He wants to lift like and athlete, he wants to practice like an athlete.”.

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Olson has a goal of playing in a regular season game for USC, though he still wears a non-contact jersey during practice, something he and the coaches are working to remove.

In addition to his time on the gridiron, Jake also golfs, surfs and plays the guitar. He loves the 17-Mile Drive area and says Pebble Beach is his favorite course — he has played it both with and without sight. One of the many goals Jake has for himself is to play on the PGA Tour.

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“I’m of the mindset, and I know it’s a cliché, but where there’s a will there’s a way,” Olson said. “The only person who can limit you is yourself … I don’t think there’s any excuses out there that, if you really want to go do something, should stop you.”.


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