For 12-year-old Jake Olson, football is not a game, it is a passion, whether he's playing center on the seventh- grade Huntington Christian School flag football team, or cheering on his favorite team, the USC Trojans.
When Jake was a year old, he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a condition in which cancerous tumors develop in the retina, in both eyes. Doctors removed his left eye, but with chemotherapy and radiation, they were able to save his right.
That right eye has shown him his world -- the faces of his parents, his twin sister, Emma, the surf near his home in Huntington Beach, Calif., and the fairways and greens of nearby golf courses, where he and his father play as often as they can.
The cancer has returned eight times, and each time, Jake beat it. However, this past September, he learned it had come back again, and this time treatment didn't work. Doctors told him they would have to take his right eye, too.
It was news that Jake processed quickly.
"I said, 'How you doing, buddy?'" said his mother, Cindy Olson. "He goes, 'Yeah, mom this is just going to be a new stage of my life."
"I'm just sad I won't be able to see them ever again," Jake said. "It's so hard, and yet cancer wins. But I'm going to experience something no one else can experience."
With more than a month before his surgery, Jake told his parents that what he wanted to see most one last time was another USC Trojans game. His wish reached Trojan head coach, Pete Carroll.
"The first thing was let's make sure that he gets inside and gets to see everything that he wants to see," Carroll said. "God bless him, he deserves every bit of it."
The Trojans invited Jake to practice Oct. 14, where he was introduced to his favorite player, center Kris O'Dowd. It wasn't long before a bond was born between the fellow centers.
"When I met this kid, I really felt a connection with him because it's just really rare for somebody to reach out to an offensive lineman, someone in our position," O'Dowd said. "He gave us these words of wisdom. It's amazing how a seventh-grader can make 100 guys dead quiet and just hear every word that comes out of his mouth, because they have mutual respect and love for this kid Jake."
Within days of their first meeting, Jake seemingly became part of the Trojans team, cheering them on from the sidelines, walking down the hallowed Coliseum steps alongside Coach Carroll, and reveling with the team after they beat Oregon State.
"I got to sit next to Pete Carroll on the bus, which was awesome. I got to see them practice, which was awesome," Jake said. "I got to go into the locker room and everyone was partying. It was just awesome."
While Jake and his family have been USC fans for years, they never imagined that the team they love so much would come to their aid and take them in as their own during the toughest period the Olsons have ever faced. In just a short time, the Trojans gave Jake a lifetime of memories and a whole new set of images to take with him going into surgery.
"I'll know what they look like. …. Blake's [Ayles] long blond hair; Kris [O'Dowd], real big, beard, mustache; my parents; my friends," Jake said. "So when they're talking to me, I'll just picture them in my head -- oh that's my mom, that's my dad. I just want to take as much in as I can."