It’s easy for USC long-snapper Jake Olson to understand why the doubts exist. For most, the concept that someone who is blind could earn playing time at any level of college football seems absurd.
He just happens to disagree.
“People freak out too much about it,” Olson said.
Blind since he was 12, Olson took a step toward proving a lot people wrong -- USC coaches included -- at the Trojans' spring game on April 16. He snapped on a pair of field goal attempts, both without a pass rush, to the applause of the 20,000-plus in attendance at the Coliseum.
Olson, whose journey has been well-documented, knew earlier in the week he was going to get the opportunity, but fought back tears as he was guided onto the field. It was a nice moment in a meaningless game and later he tweeted it represented another step towards his goal. His goal, though, isn’t just to appear in an actual game. It’s to become the Trojans’ regular long-snapper on field goals and extra points.
“I just have to continue to take steps forward until everyone is on board and some of those doubts that I know some coaches have are gone,” he said. “I’m waiting to have more opportunities to show the coaches that I have the talent to go out there and snap.”
Their chief concern, Olson said, is his safety, but he’s quick to counter as to why it shouldn’t be.
“Of course you’ll get bumped and stuff,” Olson said, “but I’m at significantly less of a risk than putting a tight end or a receiver over the middle.”
But what about blocking?
“No defender is going to have the objective to truck the center,” Olson said. “For me, I’ll snap and I’ll kind of put my hands out and usually the guards will do a really good job on the A gap. I’ll put my hands out, if I feel a body I’ll just give a shove.
“I’m not pass blocking; I don’t have to hold a pocket for three seconds. It’s just delaying someone for 0.3 seconds so they don’t have a free run at the holder.”
Olson spent two years as the starting varsity long-snapper on field goals and extra points at Orange Lutheran High in Southern California. The school plays in one of the most competitive leagues in California and that experience, he said, has made him confident he could do the same at USC. In one game he was tasked with helping block USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as he tried to block a game-winning field goal.
During spring practice, new special-teams coach John Baxter made various changes to USC’s approach, but the most significant for Olson was that instead of snapping seven yards back on field goals, which is generally considering the norm, USC’s holder will be eight yards back. The extra yard, he said, wasn’t too hard to get used to and the spring was more about getting in the weight room and improving his conditioning.
At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Olson was told by coach Clay Helton that he had the right frame for the job. “You can fill up space,” the coach said. Even so, Olson wants to add another 20 or 30 pounds and has spent the offseason bulking up. He expects the added weight to help with both the velocity of his snaps and his ability from a blocking standpoint.
“I’m just trying to present the best case to put the coaches’ minds at peace [about getting hurt],” he said.