They rode together on the team bus to the Coliseum. The celebrated in the locker room after games. They high-fived on the field before kickoff. Jake Olson's world was changed forever when he lost his sight just before Thanksgiving. But before he lost his vision, Jake's world also was changed forever by Pete Carroll, who took him inside the USC Trojans program and inside their hearts.
So when Jake learned Carroll was leaving USC for the Seattle Seahawks, Jake said, "I was kind of frightened. And sad."
Jake is the 12-year-old boy Carroll befriended after Jake learned he had just a month of vision left. He had lost one eye to cancer as a baby and had just learned the cancer had come back again to his right eye. And this time treatment didn't work. Doctors told him they really had no choice but to take his right eye, too.
When Carroll learned Jake was a huge Trojans fan, he invited him and his family to practice and into the Trojans' inner circle. It wasn't long before the Trojans players embraced Jake and his twin sister, Emma, and made them part of their team.
When they learned Carroll was really gone, Jake and Emma at first had trouble processing the news.
"I was kind of shocked," Emma said. "I was like, why? I don't understand why."
They haven't heard yet from Carroll, but have spoken to several of the players, including quarterback Matt Barkley, who they said initially sounded confused, as well
"Poor Matt, losing [offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates] and Pete Carroll," Jake said.
"But he's taking it positively," Emma said. "Looking on the bright side, maybe they'll get a good Christian coach, or a coach who's really a good guy."
Jake said he wished Bobby Bowden were still coaching, wanting the Trojans to go after him. He met Bowden at a Fellowship of Christian
Athletes breakfast in Orange County during BCS National Championship Game week. "Bowden kept slapping me in the belly," Jake said.
He also met Texas coach Mack Brown and quarterback Colt McCoy.
"Coach Brown and Colt came across the room and wanted to take a picture with me," Jake said. "And they made me do the Hook 'em Horns gesture with my hand. Matt Barkley was sitting nearby and kept pounding the table" as if to say don't do it.
Jake and Emma aren't big on the NFL, but they say they wish Carroll well and will tell him, when he calls (which Carroll said on Tuesday that he would do soon) that they are grateful for what he did for them and that they will always love him. As for USC, they say they'll remain loyal fans and believe the Trojans will bounce back.
"Look how Texas Tech did after they lost their coach right before the bowl game," Jake said. "I think we can get a new good coach and USC will be strong again."
Shelley Smith is an ESPN correspondent based in Los Angeles.