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Pete Carroll “couldn’t stop crying” seeing blind friend Jake Olson play for USC

Southern California long snapper Jake Olson leads the USC Trojan Marching Band following SC’s win over Western Michigan on Saturday. Olson lost his sight eight years ago to a rare form of retinal cancer, but joined the USC team on a scholarship for disabled athletes and began practicing with the Trojans two years ago.
Southern California long snapper Jake Olson leads the USC Trojan Marching Band following SC’s win over Western Michigan on Saturday. Olson lost his sight eight years ago to a rare form of retinal cancer, but joined the USC team on a scholarship for disabled athletes and began practicing with the Trojans two years ago. AP

RENTON Pete Carroll knew to watch USC’s season opener through to the end last weekend.

He sensed an old friend was going to perform one of the better moments anyone will ever see in college football. And Carroll cried when it happened.

Jake Olson, a long snapper who lost his eyesight when he was 12 a couple years after Carroll befriended him in Southern California, snapped on the Trojans’ final extra point of their 49-31 victory over Western Michigan at Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That’s the stadium Carroll used to preside over as SC’s head coach until Carroll arrived to lead the Seahawks in 2010.

“I had an idea that it was happening,” Carroll said with a grin.

It was such a remarkable scene Olson was doing national interviews over the phone well into Saturday night, well after his team’s opening win -- and well after Olson, still in full uniform and pads with his USC jersey number 61, climbed a ladder and led the Trojans’ band in victory song.

“It was an awesome moment,” he told The New York Times of playing for SC.

Carroll concurred. And then some. The coach has been buddies with Olson since before a rare form of retinal cancer left him blind. Olson began practicing with USC two years ago and is on the team through a scholarship for disabled athletes.

“Yeah, that was an incredible moment. I am so glad (USC) coach (Clay) Helton figured out a way to create the opportunity for Jake to show what he can do,” Carroll said Monday following the Seahawks’ practice for Sunday’s season opener at Green Bay.

Carroll was far more emotional talking about Olson than his newly formed roster, new defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, or anything else after the first practice of the regular season.

“This is just an extraordinary young man. Jake has done stuff throughout his life. From the time he was 10 years old, he has been doing remarkable things,” Carroll said. “He wrote his first book at 10 and onward. For a guy to go out there and play in a college football game, snap a ball and then kick the extra point and make it, that is just something. That is just something about Jake.

“Jake is a huge story. He is one for all of us about courage and character, grit and vision and special qualities that few people would be able to hold onto. He is going to be a big factor and we are all going to see him do a lot of stuff in this world and there is nothing holding Jake back.

“I was so excited to see, I couldn’t stop crying. It was thrilling and good to see the Trojans win, too. But that was really something.”

Carroll used to bring Olson around his USC teams and in the locker room when Olson was in grade school.

I asked the coach if he and Olson every discussed him playing in a game for SC.

“I don’t know if Jake was thinking about being a snapper when he was 11 or 12. What Jake wanted to do, he wanted to play in the Masters,” Carroll said of the famed professional golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, each spring. “He wanted to go to that course before he lost his sight and walk the course, so he would have the vision of what the course looked like in his mind, first-hand, so when he went back to play it when he couldn’t see, he could still play and win the thing.

“Think of that. Think of that.

“That is before he had a golf swing. Then he developed (that), and he has an extraordinary golf swing. He hit the heck out of the ball and all the rest of the things he does.

“I would have imagined that Jake would have been dreaming of playing for the Trojans, but the fact that it could ever come true, I would not have thought that was possible.

“But, then again, it is Jake. So anything is possible.”

With that, Carroll walked away from the podium and into team headquarters. On this day, the coach had nothing else to say.

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