It's hard to believe he's 6-foot-4 now.
In fact, when you look at him out on the field, when you watch the 195-pounder snap the ball "with the laces- out," as USC snapper Zach Smith marvels at how he does it: "I can't do that all the time," you realize how much Jake Olson belongs here.
There he was, in his Gold and Cardinal No. 17 noncontact jersey just like the quarterbacks wear for Tuesday's full-pads practice, the place that from the age of 12, he'd dreamed one day he would be.
He's a Trojan. And playing football for the USC program he's been a part of since he could still see before he lost his eyesight to cancer in 2009. In fact, Jake may have seen a USC practice before any of the players on this team that day he spent with the Trojans right before his surgery.
"It was a surreal feeling being out there at practice," Olson said in a statement released by USC after his first day. USC coach Steve Sarkisian chose not to have Jake talk to the media on top of all his other Day 1 responsibilities.
"I can't thank enough everyone who helped make this possible, all the coaches, staff and players at USC, the compliance and medical staffs here, the Swim With Mike program and the NCAA. I'm excited to help this team in any way I can and be a great teammate," Jake said. "I love this team and I always have, and now it feels great to be a part of it. Fight On!"
What Jake is doing here may be unprecedented in a number of ways, not just for his onfield work. His arrival not only has USC saying good things about the NCAA, it has the NCAA doing the right thing for a USC student-athlete. How's that for getting it right. USC applied Aug. 19 for a waiver from the requirement that Jake's Swim With Mike scholarship for physically challenged student-athletes not be counted against the NCAA limit of 85 football scholarships and the NCAA, after four weeks, said yes.
"Jake's case is a great example of the NCAA national office and its members working together to provide opportunities to college athletes," Dave Schnase, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, said. "We are happy that Jake has the opportunity to wear a USC jersey and perhaps even join his teammates on the field this fall."
And he'll wear that jersey Saturday against Stanford on a day when USC will honor Swim With Mike's 35 years of raising money for scholarships for young athletes like Jake. It just does not get any better than that.
And yet maybe it did as you watched the easy way his teammates worked with him so naturally -- and yet with a sense of awe and wonder at how he's been able to make his dream come true.
"He's stoked," said USC holder Conner Sullivan, like Jake, an Orange Lutheran alum who has worked with Jake since he was a high school freshman when Conner was a senior. "He's been waiting for this moment his whole life.
"When he said he wanted to do it" back then, Sullivan says, "I believed him." And after seeing him today, so did USC snapper Smith. "It's really fun seeing him here. I get to teach him a little bit and that helps me focus . . . all you have to do is point his hips."
But is there any danger, even with the noncontact jersey on? What if a kick gets blocked and the ball is in play, Smith was asked. "The way Jake snaps it," Zach said, "we won't get any blocked."
"We thank the NCAA for its support and assistance in working with our compliance staff to provide a waiver for Jake to be a member with our team," Sark said. "We will prevent contact during any practice drills in which he is involved to make sure he is protected. Someday, we hope to get Jake into a game."
Cody Kessler said what excites him about Jake here at practice is "the impact he can have on the team . . . to see him out there . . . he's an awesome kid . . . he's a better man than me," Kessler said. "I coudn't do it."
But Cody could connect Jake's arrival at practice with the ability to make this USC team better as his teammates watch and help him go about his business. And as important, groundbreaking and inspiring as Jake joining the team might be, there's a game Saturday (5 p.m., ABC) at the Coliseum against Stanford (1-1) to open the Pac-12 season for both teams.
And Cody wasn't forgetting it in a quick rundown of what, in Week 2, excited him about where this now No. 6-ranked USC team is. "To see us improve," he said was heartening, "no sacks, didn't miss any deep balls. We fixed things."
USC fixed a lot of things Tuesday with the return of Jake Olson.
TUESDAY QUICK HITS
"A typical Tuesday," Sark said of the full-pads practice that opened in a steady rain and ended up in the sun . . . one of the signs, Sark said, of how this team is paying attention and taking care of one another, is the on-time attendance at tutoring sessions which was 100 percent in Week 1 and 99 percent in each of Week 2 and Week 3 . . . Sark said USC "didn't make a big announcement" to the team about Jake's arrival, "he's just a part of the team" . . . Sark said senior CB Kevon Seymour tweaked his knee Saturday although it didn't seem like a problem after the game. But with some fluid on it and an elastic sleeve, he was definitely a bit stiff and will not play Saturday unless he's fully ready to go . . . Iman Marshall was at his spot with the ones . . . another freshman, Isaiah Langley, was out of his Scout team jersey and in the rotation for a look to see if he gives up his redshirt . . . and Chris Hawkins can slide over from safety if need be . . . Lamar Dawson did get into team contact work and the senior ILB may play, according to Sark, "We'll see" . . . Sark said he doesn't think much at all about USC's No. 6 AP ranking this week, that "it's just a beauty pageant" right now . . . the key to beating Stanford, Sark said, is that USC has "got to get off the field on third down" -- no long drives for the Cardinal . . . and "the best way to do that is to win first down," Sark said . . . "if we can force second and long and put pressure on the quarterback, there's a good chance it will be third and long" . . . and USC can get off the field.
CHECK THIS OUT: For more details after Tuesday's workout, check out TUESDAY WEEK 3 GHOST NOTES.
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