NCAA

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

olson-us.jpg
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."

Cal 1B Andrew Vaughn caps monster season by winning Golden Spikes Award

andrewvaughngoldenspikes.jpg
CAL ATHLETICS

Cal 1B Andrew Vaughn caps monster season by winning Golden Spikes Award

LOS ANGELES – One of the most prolific seasons in Cal baseball history has earned Andrew Vaughn a spot among the elite names ever to play the game on the amateur level as he has been named the Golden Spikes Award winner by USA Baseball and the Rod Dedeaux Foundation.

The award, which has been given to the nation’s top amateur player annually since 1978, is considered one of the highest honors a college baseball player can earn. The announcement came as part of ESPN’s SportsCenter telecast on Thursday afternoon with three of the four finalists – Vaughn, Texas infielder Kody Clemens and Auburn pitcher Casey Mize – in studio at ESPN Los Angeles.

Vaughn is the first Cal baseball player to earn the honor and is only the second to be named a finalist, joining Lance Blankenship (1984). He is the eighth Pac-12 player to bring home the award and joins a group that includes UCLA’s Trevor Bauer (2011), Washington's Tim Lincecum (2006), USC's Mark Prior (2001), Arizona State's Mike Kelly (1991), Oddibe McDowell (1984) and Bob Horner (1978) and Arizona's Terry Francona (1980). 

The announcement came live on SportsCenter at ESPN’s Los Angeles studios. After being announced as the winner, Vaughn was joined on set by his parents, Toby and Diana, along with his sister, Madison, and Cal head coach Mike Neu. 

From a statistical standpoint, the award is certainly deserved for the native of Santa Rosa, Calif. after he turned in one of the greatest single seasons in Cal baseball history.

A sophomore first baseman, Vaughn started all 54 games and hit .402, a mark that ranks third in Cal single-season history. His 23 home runs tied the single-season record set by Xavier Nady in 1999 and his slugging percentage of .819 is the best in school history. 

He also drove in 63 runs, walked 44 times, got hit by a pitch 12 times and struck out only 18 times. His on-base percentage of .531 ranks fourth in the nation. Vaughn was also one of the conference's best defenders at his position, compiling a fielding percentage of .992 and earning a spot on the Pac-12 All-Defensive team.

The announcement came as part of a two-day trip to Los Angeles for Vaughn, who has stayed busy since the end of the collegiate season. Beginning the summer as a member of the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod League, Vaughn left New England as the league leader in both home runs (5) and RBI (14) after 14 games played.

Before heading to Southern California, he moved down the East Coast to Cary, N.C. to begin his second stint with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. International play begins for Team USA on June 28 when Chinese Taipei visits for a five-game series. The team will also take on Japan and Cuba as play extends into mid-July.

Cal Athletics provided this report.

WNBA All-Star sues Cal over alleged sexual assault

cal-ap.jpg
AP

WNBA All-Star sues Cal over alleged sexual assault

BERKELEY — Former California women’s basketball player and current WNBA All-Star guard Layshia Clarendon has filed a lawsuit against Cal claiming she was sexually assaulted by a longtime member of the athletic department.

The school acknowledged the lawsuit Wednesday night and said the staff member, Mohamed Muqtar, had recently been placed on paid leave. The assistant director of student services, Muqtar has been working for the university for just more than 25 years, the school said. An e-mail to Muqtar’s Cal email account was not immediately returned.

Cal said in a statement “the University is aware of the complaint, but has not received a copy of the lawsuit nor had the benefit of reviewing the allegations.”

Clarendon, who plays for the Atlanta Dream and was at Cal from 2009-13, posted on Twitter her thoughts about the lawsuit.

She said in three separate tweets:

— “Regarding the news today: I want the shame to not be my own anymore, because it’s not my shame to carry, but it’s something that I’ve had to carry. It’s a horrible thing to live in silence, to carry that pain and that weight and the guilt.”

— “My biggest hope is that he never does this to anyone else. That no one else has to suffer under his hand, or him violating their bodies again. That this would be the end of him assaulting people. #TimesUp.”

— “It feels there is a big level of responsibility there for me, to make sure this doesn’t continue. And he doesn’t continue to harm other people.”

Cal explained in its statement that this case goes beyond the athletic department for investigation.

The statement reads: “Our department policy states that once anyone in Cal Athletics is made aware of any instance or allegation of a violation of University policy involving a coach, staff member or student-athlete, those matters are referred to the appropriate departments on campus responsible for investigating them. Athletics does not have its own specific conduct process nor does it investigate allegations or cases on its own, but follows the University’s policy and works in concert with campus professionals who are responsible for those areas. All university staff are also required to complete sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention training, and those programs have increased in recent years. Cal Athletics is and will always be committed to fostering a culture where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected. We encourage anyone who is feeling distressed or troubled to contact the PATH to Care Center and other campus resources.

“Layshia holds a special place in our history for her contributions to Cal women’s basketball both on and off the court and we are saddened to hear of the allegations that are coming to light today.”