Jake Olson defying odds as OLU's blind long snapper
Jake Olson is defying the odds as OLU's long snapper despite having lost vision in both eyes.
By RAHSHAUN HAYLOCK FS West
ORANGE, Calif. -- Maneuvering around the construction of a multi-million dollar expansion project on the campus of Orange Lutheran High School, Jake Olson heads to football practice.
In a t-shirt, shorts, and dark shades on a hot, early fall afternoon, Olsen carries his big red Orange Lutheran bag with all of his gear in his right hand. His left hand rests firmly on the shoulder of a teammate.
He's on his way.
Fighting through the construction is hard enough for members of the Orange Lutheran football squad. For Olson, it requires some assistance.
Then again, no matter how near or far Point A is from Point B, Olson will always require some assistance.
The expansion project is supposed to be a beauty, but Olson will never see it. Not because he will have been graduated by time it's completely finished, but because it's been just shy of five years since he's seen anything.
A rare form of eye cancer, retinoblastoma, took the vision from his left eye when he was eight months old. Olson spent his entire youth fighting cancer, but nine times it returned. By the age of 12, he required surgery because of the disease that would cause the vision to be taken from his right eye.
Olson ventured into America's living rooms just after the surgery he had at age 12. He was showcased on a nationally televised college football pregame show. Football was always in his heart.
On the eve of the surgery that would take away his vision for good, he chose to spend those last moments at Howard Jones Field on the campus of
USC watching football practice of his favorite team under then head coach Pete Carroll.
He became an inspiration to the
Trojans, their head coach, their center Kris O'Dowd and their young quarterback Matt Barkley.
Even after his surgery, he returned to the USC campus. He was at practice. He was in meeting rooms. He gave pep talks. He broke down the huddle.
If that was considered inspiring then, what he's doing today as a 16-year-old has improved 100-fold.
In May, Olson got the itch. He wanted to return to the football field. But how could he do it? How could a blind person take the field and participate in a sport that is considered the most brutal, physical, and sometimes dangerous sports in the world?
Just being on the team wasn't good enough for Olson. He wanted to contribute.
He'd be the long snapper.
"I just started thinking of a position that I could play and I kind of had a knack for snapping, so why not long snapper?" Olson said.
Olson snaps extra point attempts. As far as positions go, it's probably the most safe of any on the football field. By rule, defenders aren't allowed to line up over the long snapper or even touch him, for that matter.
So Olson gave it a shot. The path to earning a starting position on Friday nights, much like his day-to-day life, needed some guidance.
Enter longtime Orange Lutheran assistant Dean Vieselmeyer. The Lancers were looking to fill the void left by former long snapper
Chase Dominguez, who is now at Utah on scholarship. Orange Lutheran head coach Chuck Petersen approached Vieselmeyer last May and told him he may have a guy for him.
Both in shades, Olson and his father, Brian, attended a Lancer practice. There was some small talk. Vieselmeyer tried to wrap up the conversation with a handshake, but he got nothing from Olson in return. Vieselmeyer left scratching his head.
"He must think he's pretty good," an astounded Vieselmeyer thought to himself.
Moments later, he was approached by Petersen.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you," the head coach said. "He can't see."
"I looked at him and I said you got to be kidding me," Vieselmeyer recalled. "I've never coached anybody in my life how to snap with a person that's blind and, quite honestly, I really doubted in my mind."
Growing up playing youth football, Olson snapped as a center but never as a long snapper. He and Vieselmeyer worked and worked for months on end learning, adapting to one another, and doing things for the first time.
Olson, as a long snapper.
Vieselmeyer, coaching a player that had no sight.
By the start of the season, he earned a spot as the team's starting long snapper on point after attempts.
Being a long snapper is what Olson does. It's not who he is.
Olson is highly conscious, deeply rooted in his faith, and always looking for ways to help others.
He has a foundation,
Out of Sight Faith, in which he raises money to give other blind kids the technology to have better educational opportunities similar to what he's been fortunate enough to have.
He's a motivational speaker. He's been asked to speak at engagements for the Jimmy V Foundation. Just over a week ago he was in Tennessee speaking at the Governor's Conference. Earlier this month he spoke in Denver. Next week he's scheduled to be in San Francisco.
He's even motivated those under his own roof.
"He's made me, definitely, a stronger Christian," Brian said. "He's impacted me with not giving up on things. He's made me personally evaluate my own stand in life and where am I willing to push through."
Olson woke up out of the surgery that took away his vision for good set on going forward with a positive attitude.
"I decided right then and there I wasn't going to go home and complain about it," Olson said. "I was going to make something out of it."
That positivity has flowed through all walks of his life. There is no task he feels that is unreachable.
He plans to one day become the first blind golfer on the PGA Tour. His father has even mentioned thoughts of his to walk-on at his favorite school, USC, as a long snapper.
When Olson takes the field, he can't see the ball that he tries so hard to snap between his legs, accurately, to the holder seven yards away.
Sight, which he describes as part of the beauty of the world, has been left behind. His vision, however, extends beyond this universe.