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Jake Olson: Always Compete

Posted Jan 10, 2014

California high-schooler Jake Olson lost his sight to cancer when he was 12 years old. The relationship he developed with Pete Carroll, USC, and the Seahawks helped him follow his dream back to the football field.

Always compete. Win forever. Do things better than they have ever been done before.

You know the mantras. They’re central to head coach Pete Carroll’s football philosophy. They’re simple, yet powerful. They’re catchy, yet foundational. And they’ve elevated the Seahawks to the NFL’s best record and NFC’s No. 1 seed in Carroll’s fourth season with the club.

But they have meaning off the gridiron as well. They’re philosophies for life. And there’s no better example of that than 17-year-old Jake Olson.

When Olson was just 10 months old, he lost his left eye to cancer. He battled the disease for 11 long years, going through radiation treatment and chemotherapy in a fight to save his sight before eventually losing his right eye in 2009 when he was 12 years old.

He was a football fanatic growing up in Orange, Calif., and to him, what lied 38 miles to the northwest was the end-all, be-all for the sport.

“They were dominating college football,” Olson said of the University of Southern California. “Coach Carroll and those players were my heroes.”

The one thing Olson wanted to do before losing his sight altogether was witness another USC football game. After hearing Olson’s story, Carroll and USC answered the call.

Olson was invited to USC’s practices, into their locker room, and onto the field, breaking down pregame huddles and offering encouraging words on gameday.

He says that without USC, his transition to a life of blindness would have been a lot more difficult. His visits with the team took the focus off the reality of becoming blind, as he cited a team practice the night before his surgery as one of the things he remembers most.

“He really just kind of let me be part of the team,” Olson said of Carroll. “Just knowing that he cared that much, not only about me, but all kids, people, and in his interactions with the team. That was something that really left kind of a mark in my life.

“Whenever I think about doing stuff for others, I think well, ‘What would coach Carroll do?’”

When Carroll left USC to coach the Seahawks in 2010, Olson soon had a new favorite team. And despite the distance, the pair’s relationship continued.

“He’s kind of become my mentor,” Olson said of his rapport with Carroll. “If I have questions for him I’ll text him, or if I want to check in on him, or he checks in on me. It’s a really cool relationship.”

Olson is making his fourth visit to Seahawks headquarters this weekend as Seattle readies for their divisional-round matchup with the New Orleans Saints. In addition to Carroll, he’s made friends with a diversified northwest crew – left tackle Russell Okung, running back Marshawn Lynch, and long snapper Clint Gresham.

“I’ll come up there and we always joke around like we’re in fourth grade or something like that,” Olson said. “All those guys are really great.”

One in particular – the long-snapper Gresham – showed Olson something he’d been yearning for since the cancer took his sight: A way back on the football field. Olson had grown up playing the game along the offensive line, but he knew a return to the trenches wasn’t realistic.

“[Gresham] was the first one that showed me how to long snap,” Olson said. “That was really fun.”

Olson had never snapped before, but he had a pretty good idea of what made one effective at the position. Number one: Get the ball back to the holder. And number two: Give it a nice spiral.

“I really kind of sucked at the beginning, but it was something that I wanted to do to get back on the field,” Olson said. “I started practicing really hard for four or five months. Every day I was out there practicing.”

The practice paid off. Despite his setback, Olson – a junior at Orange Lutheran High School – was the starting long-snapper on the varsity team this past season.

“That was really cool to know that one, I made the team, and two, I earned my spot out there,” he said.

Olson snapped for the Lancers into the first round of the state playoffs, where the team lost to a last-second touchdown. The ever-upbeat Olson was quick to point out the positives in defeat.

“We’re actually pretty young,” he said. “Our quarterback was a senior this year, but we’ve got a sophomore coming up that’s really good. So we’ll be good, for sure.”

Olson will be in attendance at Saturday’s game at CenturyLink Field, and he’s hoping to share a bit of his story with some fellow Seahawks fans. He’s co-authored a book titled Open Your Eyes: 10 Uncommon Lessons to Discover a Happier Life and it’s a project Olson says he hopes can inspire others to follow their dreams.

“We wrote it to help people – any type of person,” Olson said. “Cancer survivors, those battling cancer, it definitely helps them. But something that we all have in life is adversity. I definitely like to use my story in positive ways.”

You can say hello to Olson this weekend at CenturyLink Field. He’ll be setup in Touchdown City signing copies of his book on Saturday morning prior to kickoff. As for the action on the field, Olson offered up a solid prediction for the Seahawks and his close-friend Carroll.

“I’ll say 27-10,” he said. “That’s my prediction. Seahawks with the win.”