Less than 6.5 percent of high school football players go on to play in college. But imagine for a second how much harder it is to play the sport when you’re blind. This year there are two Division I football players who are doing that, and they’re both long snappers: guys who hike the football about seven or eight yards on field goals and point after attempts.
Aaron Golub is in his second season as a member of the Tulane Green Wave, and Jake Olson is in his first year for the USC Trojans. The two joined Bill Littlefield to discuss their unique positions in college football.
Highlights From Bill’s conversation With Aaron Golub And Jake Olson
BL: Former head coach Pete Carroll out at USC heard that you were a terrific fan of the team growing up and he invited you to come out and watch them and everything else, but that still doesn't help me understand how you eventually became good enough at long snapping to land a spot on the team.
JO: I've always loved football. I played flag football in middle school. And then when I went to high school, I did not think I could play a position in which I would, first off, be safe, or really be beneficial to the team. The end of my sophomore year, they needed a long snapper. There's a lot of rules in football that protect the long snapper, and so I started learning the position, and, you know, I sucked at first. It was very difficult. And so pretty much that whole summer every day I would go out with the coach and just practice on getting a spiral, getting the velocity, getting the consistency, and when we came back in August, I had become the best long snapper on the team and earned the starting position.
BL: Aaron, I understand that you can see a little bit, but it's as if you had one eye that doesn't work at all and tunnel vision in the other one. It must be difficult for you to get the ball back to the kicker, too.
AG: I mean, it's basically just form, and I've been practicing for years. And once you get the form down, the snap's the same thing every time.
BL: Did anybody say to you at any point, "Come on, this is silly. Learn to play chess or something?"
AG: Not really. I mean, everyone's always been concerned about me playing football. But I started when I was in seventh grade and back then I used to play center and defensive tackle. Obviously, my coaches were hesitant. They weren't sure if I could play in college, but they knew that my commitment was there. So they were willing to give me a shot.
BL: All right. I know you both knew of each other, but this is the first time you've ever actually had a conversation. Aaron, have you got a question for Jake?
AG: Yeah, I feel like definitely it's hard for me to be able to snap. I feel like it must be even harder for you with no eyesight at all. How do you know where you're placing the ball every time?
JO: You said before, Aaron: a lot of it is feel and just that muscle memory. A lot of it is just, someone's kind of telling me, "OK," like, if I'm punting, "That was at his face mask, that was at his numbers, that was on his hip." For the most part, there would be very few times in which I would be surprised at where that ball would go. Because, you know, if it's high, low — those times that it does happen — you can feel it. You can just feel it wasn't a pure snap.
BL: Jake, anything you want to ask Aaron?
JO: Yeah, so you did punt snap, right? In high school?
AG: Yeah, I did punts in high school.
JO: 'Cause they never let me do punts in high school, just for the safety reason, but can you see enough to where you could see kind of someone coming at you, to avoid it or brace yourself for a block?
AG: Yeah, so what I did in high school was I would snap the ball, get into the blocking position, and I'd block the guy in front of me. And basically what I was told by my coach in high school is hit whoever you see first in the other color jersey and try and just knock them down. 'Cause if you get them out of the play, it's even. It's 10-on-10 'cause you're out and they're out.
BL: Sounds like football to me. [Laughter].
JO: Simple x's and o's.
This segment aired on November 7, 2015.