Jake Olson is not your ordinary 19-year-old University of Southern California redshirt freshmen football player. His 6’4” and 210-pound frame fits the college football player stereotype, but Olson lives with one major obstacle perhaps no other college football player in the nation shares.
Olson is blind.
However, his disability has hardly stopped his growth as an individual or his drive to play college football.
Olson, a lifelong Trojans fan, met Pat Haden, J.K. McKay and Pete Carroll through family friends. “They became aware of my football ability as a long snapper and encouraged me to try out for football; I was all for it,” says Olson, a Huntington Beach resident.
During USC’s recent spring game, Olson, wearing #61, executed a pair of flawless snaps on two field goal attempts.
“It was an emotional moment when I ran onto the field during the spring game,” says Olson, a business major. “The Coliseum is a big stage and I had to focus but I felt like I did a decent job. I know what it means to the people in the stands for the Trojans to be successful.”
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, his right eye was removed at Children’s Hospital of L.A. when he was 12 in 2009.
Olson says the days leading up to the surgery to remove his eye were stressful.
“I found out on October 1  that I was going have my other eye removed,” he says. “Because of the aggressiveness of the cancer, it was going to be removed November 12.
“I was scared knowing that I was going to be blind, but believe it or not, after the surgery, I felt a burden lifted from me. When I woke up, I accepted that I was going to be blind, but I made up my mind that it wasn’t going to stop me from reaching my goals.”
Olson received a scholarship to attend USC from the Swim With Mike’s Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund. USC received a NCAA waiver for Olson whose scholarship does not count against the Trojans NCAA mandated 85-scholarship roster limit.
Olson has the full support of USC head coach Clay Helton and the entire Trojans staff.
“I never dealt with an athlete on this level before,” says Helton. “Jake is the true definition of the USC slogan ‘Fight On’. He’s unbelievable.
“He fights every day. He’s an inspiration to players, fans and to me as a coach.”
Olson says his USC experience has been fulfilling.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Olson, who uses his guide dog, Quebec, a yellow Labrador, to navigate around campus. “It’s been a cool experience and I see every day as a challenge.
“The first year’s school work was hard and living away from home was difficult but I had a lot of support.
“My others senses have become keener. I hear things that most people don’t and my memory has improved. I play back the discussions from class in my head.
“I learned Braille but I don’t use it as much as I used to. Apple has created some excellent technology for my laptop and phone that makes it easier for me to take notes in class.”
Olson has co-authored two books and conducts a dozen motivational speaking engagements a year on overcoming adversity.
Olson was a long snapper at Orange Lutheran High School as junior and senior. He was guided onto the field and positioned over the ball by a teammate. He was also a member of the Lancers Golf team for four years and shoots in the mid 80’s. Olson says one of his goals is to play on the PGA Tour one day.
“We never considered Jake a charity case,” says OLU coach Chuck Petersen, whose grandfather was blind but was elected a city councilman and became a lawyer in Fort Worth, Texas. “From day one we told Jake we’re going to play the best guy and all he did was ask for an opportunity.
“He worked hard in spring football and earned his spot like everyone else.
“He’s influenced us in a powerful way and I get emails and letters from all over the world about how Jake has inspires people’s lives.“
Olson also emphasized that his journey has been guided by his faith.
“I am a nondenominational Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ,” says Olson. “My faith is strong and I knew I couldn’t do this alone and that I needed a full blessing from God.
“God has a plan for me and he has touched me and it’s been humbling what he has done for me in my life.”
Olson continues to inspire
Olson established the Out of Sight Foundation to raise money to help other Blind students obtain technology that will assist them with everyday tasks. To date the foundation has raised over $75,000.00.
Olson wrote his first book – “My Life with Cancer holding Jesus Christ’s hand” – when he was 8 years old.
His second book, co-authored with McKay Christensen, “Open Your Eyes: 10 Uncommon Lessons to Discover a Happier Life”, was released when he was in the eighth grade about a year after he had his surgery to remove his second eye.
Olson won the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award, presented to a leader in the world of college football who has realized his or her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.
Retinoblastoma, a cancer of the Retina, is believed to be genetic, however no other family member, including Olson’s twin sister, Emma, suffers from the disease.
Olson says his dog, Quebec, is not allowed on the practice football field and therefore remains in the locker room during practice. “He stays in the locker room when I’m on the field and he suffers from ‘separation anxiety’. When I come back in from practice, he’s all excited jumping around.”