Matt Vautour: College football opens with a pair of good stories

  • Southern California long snapper Jake Olson leads the USC Trojan Marching Band following an NCAA college football game against Western Michigan, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Los Angeles. Olson lost his sight eight years ago to a rare form of retinal cancer, but joined the USC team on a scholarship for disabled athletes and began practicing with the Trojans 2 years ago. AP

  • Howard's Jordan Scott (13) and Cody Williams Jr. (86) celebrate with teammates after Howard defeated UNLV 43-40 in an NCAA college football game at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP) Chase Stevens

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

If week one is any indication of what’s to come, the 2017 college football season could be special.

It wasn’t just because of the terrific finishes, of which there were many. A sport that has had its reputation stained by Art Briles, Hugh Freeze and countless others, delivered not one but two memorable feel-good stories in week one that will hopefully set a tone for this year.

In a sport overflowing with unique traditions, Iowa started a great one. The newly renovated Stead Family Children’s Hospital now overlooks Kinnick Stadium. The top floor of the hospital is the Press Box Cafe, a food commons where patients and their families can look down into the stadium.

In a rare case of college football fans using social media for good, Iowa fan Levi Thompson came up with the idea to have everyone in the stands turn and wave to the kids after the first quarter. The idea quickly grew legs and when the first 15 minutes of the game were complete, the crowd of 68,075 and the kids in the cafe above exchanged a warm greeting that seems destined to become a permanent part of the Iowa football experience, brightening the days of those above and below.

Half a continent away, USC was authoring its own feel good story.

Jake Olson first became part of the USC football program as a 12-year-old when Pete Carroll’s squad adopted him after retinoblastoma caused him to go blind.

In the years that followed he became the long snapper for his high school team. He walked on to the Trojans in 2015, but didn’t see game action until Saturday. With the game out of reach, USC coach Clay Helton sent Olson out to make his debut on an extra point.

He delivered a perfect snap to Wyatt Schmidt before Chase McGrath made the extra point.

“What a pressure player,” Helton told the Los Angeles Times. “Is that not a perfect snap at that moment? It’s beyond words.”

Helton and Western Michigan coach Tim Lester made a deal before the game. USC wouldn’t rush Western Michigan’s first extra point try if the Broncos didn’t rush if Olson was snapping.

“I told them, ‘What we’re about to do is bigger than the game,” Lester said in the postgame. “This is about what kind of people we want to be, what we represent; this is bigger than us.’”

After the game, Olson marveled at the path his life has taken.

“I just think there’s a beauty in it,” Olson said. “If you can’t see how God works things out, then I think you’re the blind one. I think to have a situation where a 12-year-old kid loses his sight and is going to have to face the rest of his life without seeing is just ugly, and to fast forward eight years and have that same kid be able to snap on the football field that really got him through that time, is just really just special and incredible.”

GAME OF THE WEEK:No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 2 Ohio State, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ABC — Nobody would be especially surprised if either or both of these two teams were in the College Football Playoff.

No. 14 Stanford at No. 6 USC, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. FOX — This game will likely have a significant impact on the final Pac-12 standings.

PLAYOFF BOUND: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, USC.

IF I HAD A HEISMAN VOTE — UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen led the Bruins’ amazing comeback to beat Texas A&M with 491 passing yards and four touchdown passes.

FINALLY — It makes for a funny coincidence that the team on the losing end of the biggest point-spread upset in college football history was from Las Vegas.

Howard, an FCS team coached by Mike London, the father of former UMass star Brandon London, stunned UNLV, 43-40 Saturday, behind the quarterbacking of Caylin Newton, Cam’s younger brother.

The Runnin’ Rebels entered the game as a 45-point favorite.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage