Editor's note: Jake Olson was born with retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer, and lost his sight at age 12. Last Saturday, in USC's season-opening game against Western Michigan, Olson fulfilled a dream to play for the Trojans. He was the long-snapper on a fourth-quarter extra point. He tells his story and the journey to that play, in his own words.
Over these past few days, there is one question that I have been asked repeatedly: "Jake, did you ever think when you were 12 and losing your sight that you would be snapping in a game for the University of Southern California?"
The short answer to that question: "No."
How in the world could I have ever expected this? When I was 12 and about to lose my eyesight, I was concerned with everything from how I was going to brush my teeth again to how I would complete homework assignments, let alone find any sense of independence. Consequentially, playing football became my last priority. Of course I wanted to continue to play sports after my surgery, but I never thought playing on my favorite college team was possible.
Out of everything that I have learned throughout my journey from losing my sight to snapping in Saturday's game, one of the most important principles has been the power of resilience. My friends and family can vouch for my inherent stubbornness. While it is sometimes frustrating to others, it has also rooted me in the belief that I can excel at anything I put my mind to.
As I grew restless watching my high school football team perform, I knew I had to find a way to get back onto the field. There were plenty of people who were skeptical at first, and I don't blame them: a blind kid playing football? It was an absurd idea. It also did not help that when I first started snapping, I sucked. I remember my first snap hit the ground and bounced off my coach's foot, and hearing the feedback was disheartening.
Fortunately I was surrounded by a sea of people who believed in me and supported me, even after seeing my first couple snaps. Dean Vieselmeyer, the defensive line coach at Orange Lutheran, worked with me every day of a July summer when I was in high school to mold me into the snapper I am today.
Resilience is a powerful trait, but needs a backbone of strong supporters. As shown through my story, together they can accomplish the impossible.
Once I was able to grasp the craft of long snapping, I fought and earned a position on my high school team, and I was proud and grateful to be back on the field playing the sport I love. While the future was unknown, I figured that high school ball would be the last level of competitive football that I would ever play. The day I was accepted into USC was one of the happiest days of my life. It had been my dream school ever since I was a little boy, and all those years of cheering on the sideline and bonds with USC players made the opportunity a dream come true.
After I was accepted, I sat down with our athletic director at the time, Pat Haden, and one of his assistant ADs, J.K. McKay. They invited me to join the football team at USC. Once the initial shock wore off, I was overwhelmed with gratefulness and enthusiasm to be able to contribute to my favorite team.
Once I joined the USC football team, I set my mind to working my hardest until I earned that spot on the Coliseum field. My first day the scale showed a 185-pound high schooler, not nearly big enough to compete in a collegiate football game. So over the course of these past two years I hit the weights hard, and I am no longer a lanky freshman, but 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, sometimes mistaken as a middle linebacker. I did everything I could to perfect my craft and put myself in a position to earn this opportunity.
Coming into this season, I knew there was a good possibility of snapping in a game. I was finally big enough, had practiced hard, and was confident enough in my ability to go out and deliver a successful snap. Most importantly, coaches Clay Helton and John Baxter recognized the hard work I put in and believed in me. They wanted to make it happen. I told them bluntly that I only wanted them to put me in if they felt I had earned the opportunity.
On Thursday of last week, Coach Helton told me that he felt I had indeed earned it and that plans were in place for me to snap on Saturday. Hearing that was surreal. I did not sleep at all for those next two nights and woke up on Saturday both excited and nervous for my big day.
Needless to say, the game did not go as we had hoped. Western Michigan is a heck of a football team and are going to do some real damage this year. Heading into the fourth quarter, I had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to snap. In all honesty, I was disappointed, but I understood. Right after I came to this conclusion, Marvell Tell picked off a pass and took it to the end zone. In the midst of sideline chaos, Wyatt Schmidt, the holder for the kicker, asked if I was warm. I didn't feel as prepared as I would have liked, but I knew I was ready. Coach Helton called a timeout, I took a couple warm-up snaps, and then I jogged onto the field with my teammates. I could hear the crowd erupt in cheers, adding to my adrenaline, but mainly I was focused on doing my job.
Wyatt helped line me up, I put my hands on the ball, and I did what I have done thousands of times leading up to this moment: I snapped the football back to my holder.
What came next was something I could have never anticipated. The insane outpouring of love and support -- from my teammates, my family and friends, USC fans, and really everyone in general -- was something I will treasure for a lifetime. It means the world to me to know that I have inspired others to pursue their dreams.
There are many things left I still aim to accomplish, including snapping against a live rush and to keep earning opportunities on the football field. Eventually I want to capitalize on my golfing skills and play on the PGA Tour. But most importantly I want to continue to inspire others by overcoming the impossible. I will continue to compete and work hard every day.
This is not the end of my journey.
This Sunday on E:60, Shelley Smith goes back to the beginning to share the inspiring journey that led USC's Jake Olson to college football history. Sunday, Sept. 10, 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2.