This time last week only a handful knew the “fix” was in, that a special part of Southern Cal’s opener against Western Michigan would be “rigged.” USC coach Clay Helton and his Western counterpart, first-year coach Tim Lester, were clearly party to collusion. The NCAA was notified beforehand, and the Pac-10 commissioner’s office knew, but few others did.
It almost didn’t happen, with the Broncos playing toe-to-toe with the Trojans for well over half the game but when a heads-up cornerback returned an interception for a touchdown with 3:13 left in the fourth quarter, USC had the game in the bag and Helton screamed over the crowd’s roar, “Jake, are you ready?”
Jake Olson nodded, suddenly facing the biggest moment of his life. He’s never been in a game with his beloved Trojans and it was his task to make the long snap to holder and close friend, Wyatt Schmidt. The coach called a time-out so Jake could get a quick two reps on the sideline. Schmidt then leaned in his ear, “Are you good to go?” as he grabbed Jake’s arm, running onto the field, and steadied him over the football.
Schmidt then barked the snap-count and Jake’s snap was picture perfect. The kick sailed true and the USC team, coaches and some fans erupted like Mount Vesuvius. You see, Jake cannot see. That’s right. He has been completely blind since he was 12 and last weekend his snap was the greatest thing in the world to happen on the first day of the season.
The story started about a week before Jake lost his second eye and his sight forever. He was a huge Trojan fan and, in the way things go, somebody made the correction with Pete Carroll to meet the 12-year-old. “Back then, I just wanted to see it so I could remember things,” he told reporters earlier this week. “I never dreamed Coach Carroll would make me part of everything. Jake even traveled to Notre Dame before the surgery and – the night before his eye was removed, he spent all afternoon with the team.
Carroll even got the 12-year-old to hold the Southern Cal sword and lead the band in the famous “Conquest” victory march. (Jake was asked to do it again last Saturday, saying the sword felt a lot lighter.”)
Now … the rest of the story …
On Thursday before Saturday’s game, USC’s Helton called Western’s Lester and asked for a favor. He said that if the game got out of hand, he had a blind kid who he wanted to put in but USC’s doctors said under no circumstances unless Lester would agree not to rush the kick. “What we’ll do is not rush your first point-after if you’ll agree not to hit my snapper if the score lets me get him in the game.”
“If you’d rather not do this, I’ll understand,” Helton told the opposing coach. “I don’t want to put you on the spot but this kid has been a walk-on for us for two years and this has the chance to be very, very special.”
Lester was all for it. Soon everybody was notified and the officiating crew knew the signal that the USC coach would use to notify Lester. With the game out of reach late, Helton put the signal in and Lester waved back, that he had seen it. The West Michigan coach called his defensive unit around him during the time out.
“I knew what this kid meant to everybody at USC and we were all for it. After we scored our first touchdown, the USC team went into a clover defense and didn’t touch our guys. That was the set up.” (The Western Michigan offense wondered why no attack, why no defense, on that first extra point … until after the game.)
Now came Western’s part of the deal. So Lester gathered his guys before the blind player entered the game. “I told them what we are getting ready to do is much bigger than the game. I told them about Jake’s problems and I said, ‘You can’t touch him … you can’t yell at him … everybody get down so it looks like a football play but you better not move ….
“This is about what kind of people we want to be, what we represent,” Lester told his players. “This is bigger than us … don’t dare touch him! Don’t you even take a step!”
The Western players erupted with a rousing “Yes sir!” as they ran back on the field and in the video you can see one official grinning while another is wiping his eyes. Olson was not in on the plan – he thought UWM was bringing the horses.
“What a pressure player!” screamed Helton. “Is that not a perfect snap at the perfect moment? This is beyond words,” he yelled as he hugged his blind snapper while, far away in Seattle, Pete Carroll couldn’t stop crying after befriending the boy when he was 12.
“For a guy to out there and play in a college football game, snap a ball, they kick the extra point and make it, that's just something, that's just something about Jake. Jake's a huge story. He's one for all of us about courage and character and grit and vision and special qualities that few people would be able to hold onto,” Carroll told ESPN.
"We're all going to see him do a lot of stuff in this world. There's nothing holding Jake back,” the pro coach added. “I was so excited to see it, I couldn't stop crying. It was thrilling. It was good to see a Trojan win too, but it was really something."
And Jake? “There a great beauty in it. If you can’t see how God can work things out, then you are the one that’s blind.”
Jake Olson was awarded the game ball and, on Monday, he was named by the Pac-10 Conference as the Special Teams Player of the Week.
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HERE IS JAKE OLSON’S FACEBOOK POST THE DAY AFTER
“Yesterday I was fortunate enough to achieve a lifelong dream and snap in a game for the USC Trojans. I cannot possibly thank all the people who have played a role in making this happen, but there are some people who I feel deserve special shout-outs. Mom, Dad, and Emma, none of this would have been possible without you guys. You have always been there for me, and there is simply no way I would be where I am today without your love and support.
“I am beyond blessed to have such an amazing family. Coaches Helton and Baxter, thank you for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to show what I can do. You push me every day on the field, and I am lucky to have you as coaches and mentors. To all my teammates, especially my special teams unit, thank you for being there for me and allowing me to feel so comfortable as a member of the team.
“To my friends, thank you for always supporting me and helping me get where I need to go.
“To Coach Carroll, none of this would have been possible without you. If you hadn’t made me a member of the Trojan Family when I was 12, I don’t know where my life would be. You are a special person, and I will be forever thankful for your generosity.
“Yesterday was a big day in my life, and I am hoping it’s the first of many, so stay tuned. Thank you everyone. It means the world to me knowing that I can and have inspired many through this experience. Fight On!”
Click here to see video.