Jake Olson, a blind long snapper from USC who plays in the CFL, opened up about his journey with football and his new company, Engage.
You might recognize Jake Olson’s name as the blind long snapper from USC a few years back, but his story goes far beyond that.
Speaking with FanSided’s Mark Carman in the build-up to Super Bowl 54 this weekend in Miami, Olson opened up about his journey as a football player and as a person.
Olson was born with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye where tumors can quickly make their way from the retina through the optic nerves to the brain. If treatment doesn’t work, the only solution is removing the eye, which is what Olson had to do — first his left eye as an infant, then his right eye at 12 years old.
“It was especially frustrating because we spent 12 years fighting that cancer,” he said. “I mean, it came back eight times. The whole reason we were fighting was just so I’d be able to keep my eyesight and not have to lose my remaining eye. To be told I was gonna have to lose it anyway was just devastating.”
However, through that devastation as a child, Olson learned a hard, valuable life lesson about being battle-tested, and it’s stuck with him ever since.
“By the time I found out I was gonna have to go blind, yes, it was more of a struggle than whatever I had faced at that moment in my life, but it didn’t mean I had to treat it any different,” he said. “It was kind of already built inside me and it was something that I’ve been putting into practice for the first 12 years of my life, and it was something that I was gonna have to practice literally every day for the rest of my life. So I brought on the challenge and I still bring it on every day.”
Back in 2009, when a 12-year-old Olson found out he would have to lose his other eye, USC head coach Pete Carroll invited him to visit the Trojans and they’ve remained close ever since. As he grew up and continued to play the sports he loved even after going blind, Olson was told by coach Steve Sarkisian told him he’d have a spot on the roster as a long snapper if he went to USC.
“To be presented with that opportunity was something I didn’t even think of, but once it was put in my head, I wasn’t gonna let it go,” Olson said.
As a long snapper, Olson said the biggest challenge was building the proper rapport with the holder, but once that was taken care of, it was simply a matter of letting muscle memory take over.
“It’s something that is tricky and has a lot of feel, but the great thing about it is it’s consistent,” he said. “It’s going out there and doing the same motion over and over again, just relying on the feels that you’ve tried to engrain in your mind. That’s what made it easy, because once you got that down, you just try and be a machine.”
Since college, Olson has played in the CFL. An NFL tryout hasn’t materialized, but Olson is perfectly content with that since he’s starting his own company, Engage. Olson describes it as the “Airbnb of booking talent,” aiming to make the process easier and put it in the hands of the talent and the person booking that talent.
“If the [NFL] opportunity arises, I’m ready,” he said. “But I’m just enjoying sharing my story and my message of determination and inspiration out there. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve kind of built my company, just trying to make the process easier for myself and a lot of other great stories out there that aren’t being shared just because of how the industry works now.”