Jake Olson wouldn’t have gotten his moment on Saturday without the help of Western Michigan.
The best thing that happened on an action-packed day of football was Olson, a USC long snapper who has been blind since childhood, finally getting to go out on the field for a regular season game. After USC’s lead increased to 48-31 late in the fourth quarter, Olson was sent out for the extra point.
Western Michigan coach Tim Lester knew there was a possibility USC coach Clay Helton would send Olson out onto the field. Lester told USA Today that Helton reached out to him via phone and email during the week:
But when Helton outlined his idea — he wanted to get Jake Olson, who is blind, into the game to snap for an extra point — Lester was all for it. That wasn’t all. When Lester agreed, Helton told him, “OK, here’s my email address.” Before allowing Olson to play, USC’s doctors needed to know Lester was on board with the plan.
“I give him all the credit,” Lester said. “That’s not an easy conversation. He was just being honest about a player he really cared for. He said he was gonna call every coach and just hope he gets it done. … He was just very nice in asking and he said he understood if I didn’t want to do it. He wasn’t forcing it down my throat, by any means. I didn’t think it was a hard decision at all. It was bigger than the game. I was happy to be a part of it.”
Per USA Today, Helton and Lester spoke on the field before the game to lock down the final details of what would happen. If Helton was going to put Olson into the game, he would call timeout and look over toward Lester, who would let his team know the situation. The officials were aware of their plan as well.
The game was really close until late in the fourth when USC returned an interception for a touchdown. At that point the game was enough in hand for the coaches to go forward with their plan.
Helton called timeout. Lester gathered the Broncos. He hadn’t said anything to them before the game about the deal, not wanting them to countenance the possibility the game might get away from them.
“I told my guys, ‘This opportunity for Jake is bigger than the game, you know?’ … I told them, ‘Don’t even take a step,’” Lester said. “They were just doing what their coach told them to. But afterward and as it was happening, I think they realized how special a moment it was. It was cool just to watch it happen. Just to watch the reaction of their sideline. You could see how big it was for them.”
Olson lost the sight in both of his eyes — one at age 10, the other at age 12 — because he was born with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina. When his right eye was removed in 2009, then-USC coach Pete Carroll invited Olson to meet the team. From there, he and his family developed a relationship with the program that culminated in Olson joining the team.
Olson, who snapped in high school, was granted a waiver to practice with the team in fall 2015. He then participated in the 2016 spring game, but it wasn’t until Saturday that Olson snapped in a regular season game.
“I just loved being out there,” Olson said after the game. “It was an awesome feeling, something that I’ll remember forever.”
Thanks for all the love and support Trojan Nation! See below for a longer statement. Beat The Farm! pic.twitter.com/RXZKBz1r5U
— Jake Olson (@JakeOlson61) September 3, 2017
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