Toward the end of college football’s regular season, the Walter Camp Foundation announced that blind long-snapper Jake Olson (that’s right, he’s blind) was the recipient of their 2018 Award of Perseverance. A few days later, in a Thanksgiving weekend matchup with Notre Dame, Olson took the field for the final game of the season, accompanied by his father and led by his guide dog, Quebec. If you were lucky enough to be watching, you received a glimpse of Olson’s story, which truly does transcend the game.
Born with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina, Olson lost his left eye when he was just 10 months old. When he was 12, doctors determined that his right eye needed to be removed. An avid USC football fan, Olson wanted to see the team play before his surgery. Then Pete Carroll, USC’s head coach at the time, heard about Olson’s story and invited him to meet the team.
When Carroll introduced Olson, the team loudly chanted his name, and he was invited to sit next to his favorite player. In the month leading up to his surgery, Olson spent much time with the USC team. Regarding the arrangement, SB Nation quotes Carroll as saying, “The first thing was, ‘Let’s make sure that he...gets to see everything that he wants to see. God bless him; he deserves every bit of it.”
Recalling the impact of those days, the Los Angeles Times reports that Olson said, “There were nights of crying and stressful times when I couldn’t get the thought of going blind out of my psyche. But every time I was up at USC or talking to one of the players or just being around, it was just pure fun and truthfully, pure peace.”
After surgery, Olson took up long snapping, the only position on the football field that doesn’t require sight of the ball or the opponents. He played for his high school team and then got accepted to USC, where he was given a spot on the team as a reserve. In 2017, Olson stunned the nation when he entered USC’s opening game against Western Michigan and delivered the snap for a successful point after attempt.
Pete Carroll had moved on to coaching professional football by that time, but he watched the game and was overwhelmed with emotion, saying, “We’re all going to see him do a lot of stuff in this world. There’s nothing holding Jake back. I was so excited to see it, I couldn’t stop crying.”
Olson has only been in a few games in his college career and those situations have required certain cooperation from other teams in order to assure his safety. But such arrangements only add to the beauty of this story. To see Division I football teams appreciate and applaud the struggle of another human being amid their fierce competition offers perspective on life that we can all learn from.
After his first long snap in a college game, Olson sent a powerful message to the world when he told reporters, “If you can’t see how God works things out, then I think you’re the blind one.”
Olson may not have become a football “star” in the traditional sense of the word, but he has accomplished more than any star player possibly could. He has inspired us all to understand how God can use our faith and perseverance to bring about amazing results, even from the most desperate situations in life.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING THE COURAGE WITHIN, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., is a member of The Christophers’ board of directors.