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‘A beautiful moment’: Blind college football player makes winning debut

Although a rare form of retinal cancer took his sight as a child, Olson refused to give up on his dream of playing for his beloved Trojans

Jake Olson first imagined this moment long before he lost his vision to cancer eight years ago. The blind long snappers team-mates guided him onto the field. They lined him up over the ball. The referee blew the whistle. And Olsons snap a pass between his legs to help set up a kick was straight and true.

It turned out to be a beautiful moment, Olson said.

Olsons flawless extra-point snap was the final point in the University of Southern Californias 49-31 victory over Western Michigan on Saturday.

Although a rare form of retinal cancer took his sight as a child, Olson refused to give up on his dream of playing for his beloved Trojans. On Saturday, his snap set off a wild celebration for team-mates and fans USC average around 70,000 fans per game. Olson is also a surfer and golfer and has played Californias famous Pebble Beach.

Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network)

This is anything but a regular PAT.

Jake Olson, blind since age 12, just snapped for the first time in a live game. https://t.co/amyHcFoVue

September 3, 2017

I just loved being out there, Olson said. It was an awesome feeling, something that Ill remember forever. Getting to snap at USC as a football player … Im trying to say as much as I can, because I cant quite believe it yet.

The 20-year-old junior has been around the USC football program since 2009 thanks to former coach Pete Carroll now head coach of the NFLs Seattle Seahawks who first heard about Olsons cancer and his love for the Trojans.

Olson lost his left eye when he was 10 months old. The cancer forced doctors to remove his right eye when he was 12 and he asked to watch the Trojans practice on the night before his surgery.

To take a situation that ugly, and then to fast-forward eight years and to have that same kid be able to snap on the football field with the team that really got him through that time, is just beautiful, Olson said. Its emotional. Incredible.

Although he is completely blind, Olson managed to play two years of high school football in his native Orange County. He has worked out with the Trojans since 2015, enrolling at the school with a scholarship for physically challenged athletes and gradually persuading his USC coaches and team-mates that his dream was far more than just a stunt.

USCs coach, Clay Helton, vowed to get Olson into a blowout game against an opponent that would agree not to do anything that might injure the long-snapper. Western Michigan had no problem after the Trojans final touchdown essentially put the game out of reach.

The score was close for most of a scorching afternoon at the Coliseum, so Olsons parents, Brian and Cindy, didnt think today would be the day until suddenly, it was.

I was just screaming, Cindy Olson said. I was jumping up and down. We had everybody around us, even people we didnt know, just screaming. I was saying, Thats my son! Are you kidding? This was history. This was amazing. This was Jakes dream.

Olson has gained 40lbs of muscle in two years since joining the team, and he is noticeably brawnier this year. The teams kicker, Wyatt Schmidt, is his constant companion, guiding him to the proper spots on the field during practice.

Jake has worked his butt off ever since he got here, quarterback Sam Darnold said. Its awesome to see him finally get a chance.

Helton also said this moment wasnt a one-time event: Olson will snap again for the Trojans whenever the proper situation arises in a game.

Carroll allowed Olson to lead the USC band after a game when he first became a part of the program eight years ago. Olson did it again Saturday, climbing the ladder and holding aloft the sword traditionally used to lead the band but he did it in his game uniform.

This has all come full circle, Cindy Olson said. Isnt that cool? I dont think Ill be able to sleep tonight.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/03/jake-olson-blind-college-football-player-long-snapper-usc-trojans

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