Jake Olson joins team at Tuesday’s practice

Twenty minutes after his first practice, Jake Olson walked down Trousdale Parkway with his guide dog, Quebec, wearing his school clothes and a large grin across his face.

“Dreams do come true. That’s an understatement,” Olson said.

Jake Olson, the blind long snapper from Orange Lutheran High, participated in his first practice as a member of the USC football team, fulfilling a dream of his since the age of 12. Wearing a No. 17 yellow no-contact jersey, Olson worked on snaps and hung out with his fellow specialists while USC began preparations for Saturday’s game against Stanford.

“Our guys have enjoyed having Jake around because I think it puts things in perspective for them,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said after Tuesday’s practice. “Obviously, somebody has to lead him, whether it is up the tunnel, or to the practice or locker room. And everyone is just kind of taking their turns. Which, I think speaks volumes to the character of the kids that we have on our roster.”

Tuesday was a special day for the USC football team, but not just because it had dominated in its first two wins of the season and rose to number six in the AP Poll. While the majority of the team practiced on one side of the field, all the attention from the sideline was focused on a small group of special team members that included Olson, who received a scholarship to attend USC from Swim With Mike’s Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund. Because the scholarship is regarded as athletic aid, USC sought and received a waiver from the NCAA so that he did not count against the Trojans’ NCAA-mandated 85 scholarship roster limit.

“He is actually really good,” said sophomore punter Reid Budrovich. “If you line his hips up straight. He is perfect with the snaps. Today, it was getting a hang of trying to figure out where his feet need to be to snap it straight. Then once we got the hang of that he was great.”

During the practice, starting long snapper junior Zach Smith, redshirt senior punter Kris Albarado, Budrovich and other special teams players helped guide Olson routinely snap the ball to routinely convert PATs.

“I mean, he is stoked,” said Conner Sullivan, a friend of Olson and a fellow Orange Lutheran alum. “He’s been waiting for this his whole life. He’s been around this team since Pete Carroll welcomed him here. Sark’s done the same thing. It’s good to see him out here, finally, in pads.”

Olson was a long snapper his junior and senior in high school, guided onto the field and positioned over the ball by a teammate. Olson eventually earned the opportunity to fill the starting role for his high school team and received a scholarship to attend USC.

“Jake and I were good friends in high school. I knew that he wanted to be a Trojan since he was a freshman. And because it was always a dream of mine to play college football, you know it’s a tough road, but you also know that anything is possible. So when he said he wanted to do it, I believed him.”

Olson was born with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the retina. He lost his left eye when he was 10 months old and, despite numerous procedures on his other eye, he had his right eye removed in 2009 when he was 12. Olson, a lifelong Trojan fan, was introduced to the team when Pete Carroll was the coach. Carroll welcomed Olson as a frequent visitor to USC practices and games. Olson told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times that this allowed him to find comfort in an otherwise extremely difficult time.

“There were nights of crying and stressful times when I couldn’t get the thought of going blind out of my psyche,” Olson said. “But every time I was up at ’SC or talking to one of the players or just being around, it was just pure fun. And, truthfully, pure peace.”

While playing football at USC has certainly had an immeasurable impact on Olson’s life, the freshman’s story seems to have had a similar impact on those of his new teammates.

“I think it is really awesome. It is inspirational for everybody.” Budrovich said. “Because just to see him out here just brings kind of a happy spirit. Everyone is in a better mood when they see him. Everyone loves him, so I just think it is the best experience for him.”

Olson is a motivational speaker and has co-authored two books about overcoming adversity.  His story has been chronicled nationally, being featured in several ESPN stories.

“He is an awesome kid, and I am excited to have him on the team,” redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler said. “Motivation-wise, when guys see that when they are out there in practice, tired, maybe not wanting to work hard today. They see him out here playing great. And it motivates you and shows the impact that a single person can have on a team — it’s really cool.”

Olson lives with seven roommates. Though he says that his roommates help him out from time to time, Olson generally gets around with the help of Quebec. He gets to practice by himself.

“Jake is just part of the team like the other freshman. And he doesn’t want to be treated any differently, and that is what I appreciate about him,” Sarkisian said. “Tomorrow is practice number two. And that is just how Jake would want it.”

Like any other freshman, Olson had to get to class after practice. “It was great,” he said. “It was awesome. It was really fun.”

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