It started with a phone call and a promise.
With 3:13 left to play, USC’s Marvin Tell III returned an interception for a touchdown that all but ensured the No. 4 Trojans would beat Western Michigan, 49-31, in the season opener Saturday at L.A. Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.
Instead of sending out the regular special teams unit to attempt the extra point after Tell’s TD, the Trojans brought in long snapper Jake Olson, who is blind. Olson received an escort onto the field from holder Wyatt Schmidt before the play. An official tapped Olson’s left shoulder to signal to him the ball was ready for play, and then he sent a perfect snap back to Schmidt, and kicker Reid Budrovich connected for the extra point.
WMU sports media director Kristin Keirns confirmed to the Free Press that USC coach Clay Helton called WMU coach Tim Lester earlier in the week to set up an opportunity for Olson to get in the game. Lester obliged, and the perfect moment came in the final minutes. The Broncos’ special-teams unit purposely didn’t rush the line when Olson was snapping, a promise the two coaches made with each other.
In exchange for WMU’s cooperation, USC didn’t rush WMU’s special-teams unit after Jamauri Bogan punched in a 4-yard TD with 6:07 left in the first quarter.
“Coach Helton called me during the week and told me about what they wanted to do, and we were all in from the beginning,” Lester told the Free Press on Sunday. “I told our players that this was bigger than the game, and they definitely understood and embraced that.
“It was a really cool moment and something special to be a part of.”
Olson was greeted with a wave of hugs and high fives when he returned to the sideline.
“I tried to suppress my emotions as much as I could because I have a job to do, and I wanted to make sure I got that down,” Olson told reporters afterward. “Then tonight I can look at videos and get all emotional over it. It was very special, hearing my name being called over the P.A. system.”
Olson, who also long snapped at Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High School, was born with retinal cancer. He was forced to get his left eye removed when he was 10 months old and then he completely lost his vision when he was 12. The day before his right eye was removed in 2009, he attended a USC football practice, kindling his lifelong dream to play for the Trojans.
Olson has co-authored two books about overcoming adversity and won the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award, given to a leader in college football who has realized their potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.
Helton recognized the hard work Olson has put in both on and off the practice field the past two seasons and knew the opener against WMU was a perfect time to reward the redshirt sophomore.
“Very special moment for us with a very special guy at the end of the game,” Helton told reporters. “I commend and I thank Coach Lester and the entire Western Michigan family for the honor of getting what I think is a very special person in Jake Olson in.”