Jake Olson, the young boy who lost his eyesight to cancer, but not his passion for life and USC, is now all grown up. Today, he officially joined the team as a walk-on long-snapper and fulfilled his dream to be a Trojan.
"It was a surreal feeling being out there at practice," said Olson on his first day suited up in the Cardinal and Gold. "I can't thank enough everyone who helped make this possible, all the coaches, staff and players at USC, the compliance and medical staffs here, the Swim With Mike program and the NCAA. I'm excited to help this team in any way I can and be a great teammate. I love this team and I always have, and now it feels great to be a part of it. Fight On!"
Olson just wants to be one of the guys. In that simple quest, he is an inspiration to all of them.
"It's really cool to have him here now," said QB Cody Kessler. "This team is so welcoming to him. It's great having him in the locker room and have guys around him. It gives us a different perspective on things, how much we really appreciate the game. I respect so much what he's doing. He never makes excuses, never complains about anything, and he's out here working his butt off."
Olson will wear a yellow non-contact jersey in practice, but he is in the mix, working on his snapping and helping out special teams. While his ability to compete is a remarkable individual achievement, his participation in college football was a team effort between USC and the NCAA.
"We are excited to welcome Jake onto the team and have him back around our program," said USC head coach Steve Sarkisian. "We thank the NCAA for its support and assistance in working with our compliance staff to provide a waiver for Jake to be a member with our team. Jake had a successful high school career as a snapper and will be a great addition to our team. We will prevent contact during any practice drills in which he is involved to make sure he is protected. Someday, we hope to get Jake into a game."
Olson received a scholarship to attend USC from Swim With Mike's Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund, but because that scholarship is regarded as athletic aid, USC sought a waiver from the NCAA on August 19 so that he did not count against the Trojans' NCAA-mandated 85 scholarship roster limit.
"Jake's case is a great example of the NCAA national office and its members working together to provide opportunities to college athletes," said Dave Schnase, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs. "We are happy that Jake has the opportunity to wear a USC jersey and perhaps even join his teammates on the field this fall."
During Saturday's game against Stanford, Swim With Mike will be honored for 35 years of raising money for physically challenged athletes. Olson will run out of the tunnel as a shining beacon for what that program has accomplished.
He earned the scholarship thanks to his achievements at Orange Lutheran High, serving as a long-snapper his junior and senior seasons, guided onto the field and positioned over the ball by a teammate. He also played golf in high school, regularly shooting in the 80s.