Daniel Zhu | Daily TrojanWith under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, there wasn’t much left to see for the fans at the Coliseum who sweated through the entirety of USC’s win over Western Michigan on Saturday.Junior safety Marvell Tell III had just scored USC’s seventh touchdown of the game on a pick-six to put the Trojans ahead of Western Michigan 48-31, and fans started heading for the exits.But before freshman placekicker Chase McGrath kicked the final extra point, head coach Clay Helton curiously called a timeout. Then, he yelled at redshirt sophomore long snapper Jake Olson.“Are you ready?” Helton asked. “Let’s get this done.”Fans who wanted to beat the traffic stayed in their seats. Media members who just wanted the game to end perked both ears up. The announcers on the Pac-12 Network started giving background on Olson. His name was introduced over the public-address system to the roar of the crowd. Slowly, the realization of what was about to happen drifted through the Coliseum: A blind man was about to participate in a real, live college football game.Olson took a few practice snaps with redshirt junior placeholder Wyatt Schmidt, and then he was out there. On the field. In a game. Next thing he knew, he was lined up, the whistle had blown and it was “go time.” He didn’t even have time to be nervous.“Wyatt told me to put my hands on the ball and called the cadence right away,” Olson said. “There wasn’t much time to think about anything.”Of course, the snap was perfect. Of course, the kick was good. And in the ensuing hours and days, Olson’s moment of a lifetime has gone viral, making the rounds on social media and earning him airtime on ESPN and an interview with The New York Times.“What a pressure player,” Helton said. “Was that not a perfect snap? I’m very proud of him. He’s put a ton of work in.”To fully understand the gravity of that snap, you need to know what Olson went through to get to that moment. How he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma — a cancer of the retina — at birth, causing him to lose his left eye at 10 months. How the cancer came back eight separate times despite rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and other treatment. How, at age 12, his right eye was removed to prevent the cancer from spreading to the brain, rendering him completely blind.But the die-hard USC fan from Huntington Beach was determined to not just live while blind, but also accomplish his dream: wear the Cardinal and Gold on Saturdays. So he learned how to long-snap, perfecting the position over a summer in high school.“When I first started I couldn’t snap the ball,” Olson told the Daily Trojan in 2015. “I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. It took two or three months of really practicing hard to start seeing some progress.”Remarkably, he progressed enough to earn the starting long snapper position at Orange Lutheran, a football powerhouse in Orange County. And soon, he not only found himself at USC through a scholarship with Swim With Mike, an organization that helps physically challenged athletes attend college, but he also made the football team.He redshirted his first season, spending time on the practice field working on his snaps. And in one practice in fall of 2015, then-head coach Steve Sarkisian told Olson to jump in and snap the ball in a live field goal drill for the first time.“I felt ready,” Olson said. “It was something I did thousands of times. It was not letting the situation get in your head … Just do the same thing you always do.”Perhaps as a precursor to his first snap in a live game, that attempt was also perfect — as if there was ever any doubt. On Saturday, his family was in attendance, and they were probably more nervous than he was.“I didn’t want them to put him in when the game was so close because I didn’t want that pressure for him, even though I’m sure he would’ve done fine,” said Jake’s mother, Cindy, standing outside the USC locker room following the game.She was quick to add that she was speaking for herself and not her son, who does not lack any confidence. A few weeks ago, Olson was with his family in Atlanta across from the College Football Hall of Fame and the city where the National Championship Game will be played next January, for a speaking engagement, and officials offered to give him a tour. But Olson declined.“I’m coming back in January with my team,” Olson said, according to his mother. “That’s when we’re going to do it.”But Olson also has a sense of humility and appreciation for the opportunities he’s received. It took a concerted effort to set up Saturday’s moment, with Helton reaching out to Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester before the game, offering to not rush the Broncos’ first extra point attempt if Lester would tell his players to back off during Olson’s snap. Lester agreed.“I told my guys, ‘This opportunity for Jake is bigger than the game, you know?’” Lester told USA TODAY.Indeed, the moment was bigger than sports. On the scoreboard, it was merely a point — but for Olson, it was a dream come true. On Saturday, he showed that blindness can’t stop him from doing what he loves. From celebrating with his teammates on the field to being interviewed in the press conference room, Olson was treated to the full college football experience — not just as a 12-year-old when he spent a day with former head coach Pete Carroll and the football team before his surgery, but as an actual player on the official USC roster. “This has come full circle because he got up there being on the team and actually contributing to his team,” Cindy Olson said.We probably haven’t seen the last of Olson yet, as Helton said he would try to work him into more games. Regardless, Olson has already done without eyesight what most of others haven’t done with vision.And on Saturday, instead of reporters peppering redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold with questions in the postgame press conference room, it was Olson who answered question after question — on getting the opportunity to play, on the emotions of walking on the field, on what surprised him and on his life coming full-circle. One-by-one, he gave thought-out, elaborate answers, but it was his last answer — the one in response to coming full-circle — that drew nods from Helton and junior running back Ronald Jones II and sucked the air out of the packed room. “I just think there’s a beauty in it,” he said. “If you can’t see how God works things out, then I think you’re the blind one.”
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