Football is more than injuries; it also inspires hope

I was preparing to write a column about how dangerous it is to play football, but that’s nothing new.

We know that in every high school, college and professional game, there’s likely to be a relatively minor or season-ending injury to someone. It’s the nature of the sport. It’s mind-numbing to think about the number of concussions resulting from contact in the game of football.

But as I was perusing ESPN.com one day, something grabbed my attention.

Football, and sports generally, bring us stories that you just can’t make up. These stories are amazing, challenging and inspiring. It reminds me that in the midst of the organized chaos and violence that we call football, there are encouraging stories that give us reason to hope.

Perhaps this story is familiar to you. If so, share it with others. Because it’s not every day that a blind man plays football, much less at a major program like USC.

Jake Olson was born with retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer, and lost his sight at age 12. But there he was in USC’s season-opening game against Western Michigan, fulfilling a dream to play for the Trojans.

There are limited roles for blind athletes in competitive sports, but there he was as the long-snapper on a fourth-quarter extra point.

In the ESPN.com story, Jake wrote, “Over these past few days, there is one question that I have been asked repeatedly: ‘Jake, did you ever think when you were 12 and losing your sight that you would be snapping in a game for the University of Southern California?’

“The short answer to that question: ‘No.’”

When he was losing his eyesight, he was concerned about the basics of life. How would he brush his teeth again? How would he complete homework assignments? How could he find any sense of independence? Football was his last priority.

Olson says one of the most important principles he has learned has been the power of resilience. He also credits a sea of people who believed in and supported him.

With a lot of effort, Olson learned the craft of long snapping. He earned a position on his high school team, but figured that would be the end of playing competitive football.

Besides being blind, Olson needed to get bigger. His first day on the scale showed a 185-pound high schooler, not nearly big enough to be a lineman for a Division I football team. So during a two-year span, Olson hit the weights hard. He went from a lanky freshman to 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds.

“I did everything I could to perfect my craft and put myself in a position to earn this opportunity,” said Olson. “Coming into this season, I knew there was a good possibility of snapping in a game. I was finally big enough, had practiced hard and was confident enough in my ability to go out and deliver a successful snap.”

He bluntly told his coaches that he only wanted them to put him in if they felt he had earned the opportunity.

USC put Olson in to snap for the extra point in the fourth quarter of an eventual win over Western Michigan. A teammate walked and jogged in alongside him to help him find his place on the field. The snap was good and the kick was good.

After the play, Olson received an outpouring of love and support from his teammates, family, friends, USC fans and everyone in general.

You can’t help but root for this young man. There’s no doubt his life and perseverance are nothing short of amazing.

“… I want to continue to inspire others by overcoming the impossible,” said Olson. “I will continue to compete and work hard every day. This is not the end of my journey.”

Hillsboro resident Joe Klein­sasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Klein­sasser@wichita.edu.