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Disability No Barrier In Quest For Super Bowl

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RENTON, Wash. — For Seattle fullback Derrick Coleman, the Seahawks’ home field is the loudest stadium he’s never heard.

Coleman is legally deaf, and has been since he was 3, so he won’t have need for earplugs Sunday when the Seahawks play host to San Francisco in the NFC championship game.

“I feel it, I don’t exactly hear it,” he said of the noise at CenturyLink Field, where twice this season the Seahawks “12th Man” set Guinness Book records for being the world’s loudest crowd at a sporting event.

“I don’t get pain or anything like that. I don’t need earplugs. My hearing aids are my earplugs. I feel the vibration. I know they’re yelling — you’ve got a lot of problems if you can’t hear that.”

Coleman, undrafted from UCLA in 2012, has two carries and eight catches this season, and mostly contributes on special teams. But he’s an inspiration to his teammates, and now to millions of others as the star of a one-minute Duracell battery commercial that chronicles his improbable rise from being “picked on and picked last” as a child with a hearing problem to the NFL.

Put simply by teammate Zach Miller: “Derrick is a stud.”

Coleman describes his ability to hear on a scale of 1 to 10. A person with normal hearing is in the 8-to-10 range, he said, and with his hearing aids, he’s a 7 on a good day. Without them, he’s a 1.

He doesn’t use sign language, although he learned the basics of it in a college class. Instead, he reads lips. That requires eye contact with the person speaking, so it helps that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson removes his mouthpiece when he calls a play and doesn’t wear a face mask crisscrossed with bars.

“You never really see me jumping offsides,” said Coleman. “If I do, it’s because I’m too excited and I’m not focused. It’s not because I didn’t hear the ball snapped or anything like that.”

When the offense is on the field but Coleman isn’t part of the formation, he’s typically standing beside offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell so he can read lips from the side as Bevell shields his mouth with a play card.

Once, during his freshman year in high school, Coleman lip-read an opposing coach.

“My coach said, ‘What are they about to run?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘Outside sweep.’ We changed the whole defense and stopped them. We tried to do it again, but it didn’t work.”

Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll called Coleman “a guy that does everything right.”

“He does his job impeccably well in all areas and everything that we ask of him,” Carroll said. “He’s a terrific-effort guy; he’s tough, he’s fast, he’s the third running back on game day when the roster sets up that way.

“So he’s been a fantastic part of the team and it’s been a really cool story. Not because he has issues, because he’s made this team and he’s made a spot for himself and he’s claimed it. The fact that he has a hearing issue is really not even something that we deal with.”

That is to say, Coleman has made his hearing impairment a non-issue. But there are certainly challenges.

He has a backpack on the sideline for games with backup hearing aids and extra batteries. In the second quarter of Saturday’s playoff game against New Orleans, he got a beeping alert that warned him the batteries were about to run out.

“I had one of the equipment guys get my batteries,” he said. “Came back, changed them right quick, good to go.”

Miller, whose locker stall is next to Coleman’s, said the fullback “makes the disability seem like nothing. He overcomes it so easily, never makes an excuse about it. True pro. All the adjustments and checks, there’s a lot of talking at the line of scrimmage. Maybe it’s not as big a deal when you’re on the road, but when you’re at home you talk a lot. So he has to constantly watch lips. Lot of concentration. He’s definitely a stud for overcoming that.”

The battery commercial is built around the motto “Trust the power within,” and Coleman hopes that message resonates.

“Everybody [on the team] really liked it,” Coleman said of the ad, which has more than 5 million views on YouTube. “Guys say, ‘Oh, my wife watched it. She was choking up. Almost made me cry.’ Just stuff like that. I don’t really know how to respond to that.

“I’m glad that it got to everybody, and everybody truly not only sees what I overcame, but really got the message out of it, that you can do whatever you want to do. Just don’t give up.”

© 2014 the Los Angeles Times
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  1. Julie Bever says:

    This is great. My son is only 6 and is also deaf. He is bi-laterally cochlear implanted and has indicaited he wants to play football. the issue is when he puts a helmet on it knocks his cochlears of even with a sweat band or do-rag over them. We have the same issue for motorcycle and horse riding helmet. Someone out there needs to somehow build a helmet that will adjust to their heads once it is on. If this has already been done I would be interested in finding out where to get them. This story is also very inspiring.

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