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April 3, 2003

Quarterback unfazed by handicap

From: Torrington Register Citizen, CT - Apr 3, 2003

BRYAN M. SUNDIE, Register Citizen Staff
April 03, 2003

WINSTED -- When he steps behind his center at the line of scrimmage, Jeff Deja is unfazed by crowd noise. Trash talk from opposing defenses? Forget it. He is focused only upon his receivers, passing routes and most important, winning.

Deja is deaf, and although his inability to hear served as an early roadblock to his development as a player, it has since helped him to maintain his focus as a quarterback in the fast-paced game.

"He knows the game of football, so he can read the defense," current teammate and wide receiver Eric Cadrain said. "I don't even know he's deaf."

Deja, 29, cites his ability to read the actions of opposing defenses among his most valuable attributes as a player. It has, thus far, helped him lead his current flag football team toward a certain playoff berth in a league organized by The Sports Domain in Winsted. However, offense was not always so easy for Deja.

As he approached his teenage years, Deja was unable to attend a school for the deaf while living in Ohio because of its distance from his home. He attended a public high school instead and pursued his desire to play team football, a game he fell in love with at age 10. He landed a spot as a defensive player, but never made it onto the offensive side of the ball.

"The toughest part was that I wanted to play offense, but they were hesitant about communication," Deja said of his high school coaches. "They didn't have the patience."

Deja finished a non-eventful high school playing career and went off to college, where he began to log his first consistent minutes as a quarterback of his fraternity football team.

From there, Deja further honed his quarterbacking skills while playing in the United States Flag and Touch Football League. While he still plays in that league, Deja is perhaps most proud of his involvement with the United States Flag Football League for the Deaf, serving as its deputy commissioner.

Deja moved to Winsted about two years ago when his wife, Stephanie, received a job at Northwestern Connecticut Community College. Since then, he has become a stay-at-home dad and a part-time student at Central Connecticut State University. After he graduates, Deja hopes to land a job working with computers, but for now is content with his studies, spending time with his two children and playing football.

When he joined his first local flag football team at The Sports Domain last spring, Deja told his teammates he was willing to play any position. After being inserted at quarterback, Deja kept the spot for the remainder of the season.

A few weeks ago Deja, who, as a youngster was a fan of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White, began to lead a different team at The Sports Domain toward the playoffs. While it was a challenge, it took he and his teammates just a short while to develop ways to communicate. Deja has taught his team a few bits of sign language, but often uses the palm of his hand and index finger to map receivers' routes in the huddle.

Deja says his squad is perfectly suited to his style of play. Although he has no qualms with throwing deep bombs, he prefers to move the ball toward his end zone with an array of short passes.

"He stepped in and filled the spot," Cadrain said about Deja before a recent game. "We're going to hook up for a couple of touchdowns tonight."

©The Register Citizen 2003