Health

Coleman's hearing not an NFL obstacle

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — CenturyLink Field is the loudest around. Derrick Coleman knows it even if he can't hear it.

Seattle's backup fullback is hearing impaired, which would seem to preclude a pro football career. Yet the second-year player from UCLA has become an integral part of the NFC West champions, and will be on the field Sunday when the Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

And when the Seahawks are lined up in the tunnel before being introduced and the crowd is testing the seismograph, Coleman knows exactly what's going on. "I get the same feeling everybody gets," said Coleman, who lost his hearing when he was 3 years old. "You all walk through the tunnel and everybody cheering is heartwarming, the fans cheering you on.

"In terms of being loud and able to hear that, I feel it. I don't exactly hear it, I don't get pain like you guys," Coleman added Thursday to a group of reporters. "I know they are all yelling, I can hear everybody talking, but it doesn't hurt me as much as anybody else.

"You have a lot of problems if you can't feel that." It would seem natural to think any deaf player would have problems reaching the NFL, but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn't believe it's an issue with Coleman. Seattle picked him up as a free agent in December 2012, and he appeared in 12 games this season, mainly as a blocker and special teamer.

And as an inspiration. "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 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."

Coleman deals with it every second of his life. He recently did a commercial for Duracell batteries that has become a YouTube sensation with, he said, more than 4.5 million hits. The premise of the commercial was the importance of long-lasting batteries. Coleman acknowledges he always has an extra pair handy for his hearing aids and even needed to change them out in last week's victory over New Orleans.

But to the 23-year-old from Los Angeles, the ad was about much more. "It's spreading awareness not just for the hearing impaired but for everybody," Coleman said. "Everybody has problems, but we can still do what we want to do.

"I've been doing this since I was in college. Like I always tell everybody, there might be 100 people in the room, but if one walks away knowing, 'I can still chase the dream,' that is all I care about. It's heartwarming."

In so many ways, Coleman's story is exactly that, too. As a kid, he was a strong, fast athlete, but often was chosen last in pickup games because of the hearing aids. He also was picked on because of his deafness.

But he's never allowed it to be a handicap, as his place in the NFL confirms. "Any opportunity I get, I always cherish it," Coleman said. "You only get so many opportunities in a lifetime. This is one I definitely didn't want to squander or pass up."

And there are some advantages to being hearing impaired. Carroll believes in home games, when CenturyLink is rocking "he might be the very best one to get the call from Russell (Wilson)." When Coleman was in high school, his coaches even tried to use his lip-reading skills — he doesn't use sign language — to steal an opponent's signals.

Coleman laughs when he relays that story, saying that play callers cover their mouths because of people like him. "It is hard 50 yards across the field," he said with a chuckle. "I'd done it once for having fun, freshman year in high school. Coach said, 'What are they about to run? I said, 'outside,' and he changed the whole defense and we stopped them.

"I tried do it again and it didn't work."

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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