Derrick Coleman doesn't hear the plays called in the huddle. He doesn't hear the quarterback call for the snap, and he doesn't hear the commotion that takes place once the ball is in his quarterback's hands.
Coleman is significantly hearing impaired, but that hasn't stopped him from being an impact player at UCLA. He won the Bruins’ Tommy Prothro Award for the best special teams player and earned a spot on the All-Pac-12 second team as a senior. The running back will continue his football career after signing with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent.
With hearing aids, he's been able to compensate somewhat for his disability, but mostly he relies on reading lips.
Coleman began losing his hearing when he was about 3 years old, and later, doctors concluded that the problem was genetic. Coleman's mother and father were both missing hearing genes, and as a result, Coleman was born without a key gene as well, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne.
However, none of it has stopped Coleman from becoming great at what he loves. Instead, it's made him work harder to prove that you don’t need your hearing to play football.
In 2011, the running back led the Bruins with 11 touchdowns and finished second on the team with 765 rushing yards. He's played in 44 games over four years, compiling 1,655 yards and 19 scores. All the while, he's made his coaches and his teammates forget that there is anything different about him in the first place.
Some of his best moments came during the Bruins’ huge 29-28 upset win over Arizona State last season, when he registered two one-yard touchdown runs and finished the game with 119 yards. That game, more than any other, he established himself as the guy who deserves to have the ball when the pressure is on.
“Derrick has overcome his disability in such a way that no one even notices it's a disability,” former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said to ESPN. “It's really second nature. He comes and grabs you on the shoulder to make sure you look at him. He'll tell you what you said when you're on the sideline 35 yards away because he can read lips.”
Coleman doesn't feel he's impaired. In the end, his hearing loss has increased his drive and his focus. He pays more attention. He compensates for any shortcomings by playing harder, just to make sure he's not missing anything, just to make sure he’s not failing to measure up.
As he told ESPNLosAngeles, "I didn't move until the ball was snapped, and then I just read our quarterback Kevin Craft's lips. The only thing I didn't hear was the whistle. But I guess that that makes you work even harder because you don't stop."
Next year, when he’s playing in the NFL, he might not be able to hear what his new quarterback is saying before the ball is snapped. He might not be able to hear the crowd roar when he scores his first touchdown. Just because he can't hear it, though, doesn't mean he won't notice it, and it will still motivate him to be better than everyone else.
Presented by MetLife. I Can Do This.