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Blind Football Player Snaps for Extra Point in a U.S.C. Win

ADA Sign Depot

September 06, 2017

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Blind Football Player

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A blind football player for the University of Southern California participated in his first college regular-season game on Saturday, snapping the ball on the final extra point in the fourth-ranked Trojans’ 49-31 home victory over Western Michigan.

The long-snapper, Jake Olson, lost his eyesight when he was 12. He has been a lifelong fan of U.S.C.’s football team and was eager to take the field at the Coliseum after two years of high school football and two years of practicing alongside his college teammates.

“It was an awesome moment,” he said in a phone interview Saturday night, adding that it all boiled down to practice. “It’s muscle memory — it’s not like magic,” he said. “It’s not like, ‘I hope this goes right.’ If you do it correctly, it will go right.”

After U.S.C.’s season-opening win, Olson, 20, said he planned to celebrate with his teammates.

When he was 10 months old, Olson had his left eye removed because of a cancer called retinoblastoma. When he was 12 years old, his right eye also had to be removed. He learned to live without his sense of sight, and in high school he became passionate about joining the football team.

Chuck Petersen, who coached Olson at Orange Lutheran High School outside Anaheim, Calif., said he proved himself as the best player for the position. Petersen said that in two years, Olson had only two bad snaps — the first and the last of his high school career.

“It wasn’t a charity case,” Petersen said minutes after discovering that Olson played in U.S.C.’s game on Saturday. “First and foremost, Jake would never have allowed it to be that.”

In high school, Petersen said, one teammate would help Olson down the sideline when a kick was imminent. The holder would then line him up facing the goal posts, before giving an audible signal to let Olson know where to snap the ball.

Petersen said that officials and opposing coaches were considerate toward Olson, but that some opposing players were not aware he was blind.

“They thought they would distract him,” Petersen said. “They would start running at him, trying to flash their hands or something. I thought, ‘How stupid are you? That ain’t going to do nothing to him.’”

Olson was ambitious, and although he could not convince Petersen to let him snap on punts or block opponents, his determination paid off. Olson earned a scholarship for athletes with physical disabilities and joined the Trojans in 2015.

Olson said U.S.C. Coach Clay Helton decided this week that he would enter the game if the score was not close. Western Michigan is unranked but presented a formidable challenge until U.S.C. pulled away by scoring two touchdowns within a one-minute span late in the fourth quarter.

With about three minutes left, Olson entered the field for the first time. He snapped the ball to holder Wyatt Schmidt, and Chase McGrath sent it through the goal posts for the Trojans’ final point.

“I tried to suppress my emotions because I had a job to do out there,” Olson said at a news conference after the game. “I’ll check out the videos tonight and get emotional about it.”

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