NCAA

Blind long snapper fulfills dream at USC: 'I can't quite believe it yet'

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USATSI

Blind long snapper fulfills dream at USC: 'I can't quite believe it yet'

LOS ANGELES -- Jake Olson first imagined this moment long before he lost his vision to cancer eight years ago.

Southern California scored a touchdown. Coach Clay Helton turned to the sideline and yelled his name: "Are you ready? Let's get this done!"

The blind long snapper's teammates guided him onto the field. They lined him up over the ball. The referee blew the whistle.

And Olson's snap between his legs was straight and true.

"It turned out to be a beautiful moment," Olson said.

Olson delivered a flawless extra-point snap for the final point in No. 4 USC's 49-31 victory over Western Michigan on Saturday.

Although a rare form of retinal cancer took his sight as a child, Olson simply refused to give up on his dream of playing for his beloved Trojans. After years of dedication to football and two seasons of practice, Olson's dream abruptly came true in USC's season opener.

Olson got his snap to holder Wyatt Schmidt with 3:13 to play, and the ensuing kick set off a wild celebration for teammates and fans in awe of an indelible moment for an unstoppable athlete.

"I just loved being out there," Olson said. "It was an awesome feeling, something that I'll remember forever. Getting to snap at USC as a football player ... I'm trying to say as much as I can, because I can't quite believe it yet."

Olson's snap was the culmination of years of dedication to a seemingly crazy dream. The 20-year-old junior has been around the USC football program since 2009 thanks to former coach Pete Carroll, who first heard about Olson's cancer and his love for the Trojans.

Olson lost his left eye when he was 10 months old. The cancer forced doctors to remove his right eye when he was 12 - and he asked to watch the Trojans' practice on the night before his surgery.

"To take a situation that ugly, and then to fast-forward eight years and to have that same kid be able to snap on the football field with the team that really got him through that time, is just beautiful," Olson said. "It's emotional. Incredible."

Although he is completely blind, Olson managed to play two years of high school football in his native Orange County. He has worked out with the Trojans since 2015, enrolling at the school with a scholarship for physically challenged athletes and gradually persuading his USC coaches and teammates that his dream was far more than just a stunt.

Helton vowed to get Olson into a blowout game against an opponent that would agree not to do anything that might injure the long-snapper. Western Michigan had no problem after the Trojans' final TD essentially put the game out of reach.

The score was close for most of a scorching afternoon at the Coliseum, so Olson's parents, Brian and Cindy, didn't think today would be the day - until suddenly, it was.

"I was just screaming," Cindy Olson said. "I was jumping up and down. We had everybody around us, even people we didn't know, just screaming. I was saying, 'That's my son!' Are you kidding? This was history. This was amazing. This was Jake's dream."

Olson takes his role with the Trojans very seriously: He has gained 40 pounds of muscle in two years since joining the team, and he is noticeably brawnier this year. Schmidt is his constant companion, guiding him to the proper spots on the field during practice.

"Jake has worked his butt off ever since he got here," quarterback Sam Darnold said. "It's awesome to see him finally get a chance."

Helton also said this moment wasn't a one-time event: Olson will snap again for the Trojans whenever the proper situation arises in a game.

Carroll allowed Olson to lead the USC band after a game when he first became a part of the program eight years ago. Olson did it again Saturday, climbing the ladder and holding aloft the sword traditionally used to lead the band - but he did it in his game uniform.

"This has all come full circle," Cindy Olson said. "Isn't that cool? I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight."

Love finishes as Heisman runner-up

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USATSI

Love finishes as Heisman runner-up

NEW YORK  — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has won the Heisman Trophy, completing a climb from walk-on to one of the most accomplished players in the history of college football.

The brash, flag-planting Sooners star became the sixth Oklahoma player to the win Heisman in one of the most lopsided votes ever.

Stanford running back Bryce Love was the runner-up, making it five second-place finishes for the Cardinal since 2009. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, last year's Heisman winner, was third, the best finish by a returning winner since Tim Tebow of Florida in 2008.

Mayfield received 732 first-place votes and 2,398 points. Love had 75 first-place votes and 1,300 points and Jackson received 47 and 793. Mayfield received 86 percent of the total points available, the third-highest percentage in Heisman history.

Mayfield is the third player to win the Heisman heading to the College Football Playoff. The second-ranked Sooners meet No. 3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. He is the first senior to win the award since Troy Smith of Ohio State in 2006 and the first Heisman winner to begin his career as a walk-on since athletic scholarships started in the 1950s.

"It's been a tough journey," Mayfield said during his acceptance speech. He choked back tears thanking his parents and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.

Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting two years ago and third last year. He entered this season as one of the favorites and jumped toward the front of the pack when he led the Sooners to an early victory at Ohio State that he celebrated by planting the OU flag in the Horseshoe turf.

He later apologized for that, but that has been Mayfield's career. Spectacular play fueled by grudges, slights and trying to prove doubters wrong. Moxie is the word that gets attached to Mayfield often, but at times poor judgment has gotten him in trouble on and off the field.

Those were really the only marks on Mayfield's Heisman resume because his play has been consistently stellar. He has thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns this season for the Big 12 champion Sooners (12-1). For his career, Mayfield is eighth in FBS history in yards passing (14,320) and sixth in touchdown passes (129). He is likely to leave college with the two best single-season passer ratings in major college football.

Pretty good for a scrawny kid who grew up in Austin, Texas, rooting for Oklahoma, but did not receive a scholarship offer out of high school from either the hometown Longhorns or his beloved Sooners.

At Lake Travis High School, Mayfield won a state championship at a school that regularly pumps out Division I quarterbacks. Mayfield was undersized at 6-1 and received just one offer from a Power Five program — Washington State.

Instead, he walked-on at Texas Tech and started eight games as a freshman. With a glut of quarterbacks in Lubbock, Mayfield left and had only one school in mind.

Oklahoma had Trevor Knight, coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama and with three more seasons left of eligibility, but that did not dissuade Mayfield.

Mayfield thanked former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who also was at the Best Buy Theater in midtown Manhattan, for welcoming a "chubby, unathletic kid into the program with open arms."

His departure from Texas Tech was contentious. At first, he lost a year of eligibility, despite not being on scholarship. Texas Tech could have given permission to waive the lost year, but did not.

Mayfield eventually got that year of eligibility back when the Big 12 tweaked its rules, but he never did let it go. For his last game against Texas Tech this season, he wore the "Traitor" T-shirt that some Red Raiders fans wore when he first returned to Lubbock with Oklahoma.

Later in the year, it was Kansas — or all teams — that tried to get the volatile Mayfield off his game. Jayhawks captains refused to shake his hand during the pregame coin flip. They trash-talked Mayfield and even took a late hit at him. He responded by screaming profanities and making a lewd gesture that television cameras caught. That led to a public apology from Mayfield, his third this year.

The first came after he was arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in February for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing. He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors and paid a $300 fine. The second came after that flag planting in Columbus, Ohio, after the Sooners beat the Buckeyes. Mayfield said before that early season showdown that the Buckeyes had irked him by celebrating on the Sooners' field in 2016.

Mayfield joins Jason White and Sam Bradford as Oklahoma quarterbacks who won the award since 2003. Only Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC have won more Heisman trophies with seven each.

Mayfield is an old-school winner. For decades, seniors dominated the Heisman, but over the last 10 years four juniors, four sophomores and two redshirt freshmen have won the Heisman. By comparison Mayfield has been around forever, that first season at Texas Tech coming in 2013. He has played 47 college games. Only USC's Carson Palmer with 50 had played more when he won his Heisman in 2002.

There is at least one more game to play for Mayfield, and maybe two. He and the Sooners will go into the playoff as a slight underdog against Georgia, which seems only appropriate for a player who has built his career on exceeding expectations.

Taggart living the New American Dream while his players suffer true consequences

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USATSI

Taggart living the New American Dream while his players suffer true consequences

Willie Taggart has done his part to address the issue of undercompensation and freedom of college athletes by reminding them all that he has rights they don’t.

Taggart left his job coaching the football team at the University of Oregon after two days short of a year to take the job at Florida State University. It is his fourth school in six years, and the bowl game he led the Ducks to (the Las Vegas Bowl) will be his fourth, of which he has remained to coach one.

He has, in short, bettered himself consistently without establishing roots anywhere. It’s the New American Dream.

Yet the athletes who actual fuel the college sports engine must appeal to transfer, must sit out years of eligibility and in some cases have their choices restricted or vetoed outright because otherwise CHAOS WOULD REIGN!

Well, there’s chaos and then there’s chaos, of course, to be defined only by those in charge. Coaches do come and go -- 12 have filled vacancies since Chip Kelly took the UCLA job 10 days ago, and there will be plenty more. Somehow the system survives.

But players moving to seek their betterment is bad for business, most of the time because the suspicion is that they have been gotten to by other coaches from other programs – a classic case of the system saving itself from itself at the expense of the weakest of its membership.

The obvious inequity here has not troubled college administrators before, and it surely won’t this time either. The first responsibility of any system is to protect itself, and college football is a cheerily money-making powerhouse – in considerable part because players are underpaid and restricted in ways that coaches aren’t.

But maybe Taggart’s wanderlust can become a force for good. Maybe the next time an athlete wants to transfer, he’ll just ask for “a Taggart form” in hopes of “Taggarting” to another school. I mean, we’d say “Kiffining,” but there is no compelling reason why Lane Kiffin’s name should be in anyone’s mouth unnecessarily, to speak of another coach who sees a better shade of green in every job he doesn’t have but might someday want.