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June 19, 2003

Clayton is deaf - not different

From:Louisville Courier Journal, KY - Jun 19, 2003

Kentucky all-star wants to be 'just another player'

Michael smith
The Courier-Journal

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Not until after the high school football game ended did Warren Central coach Rick Wood learn that Logan County's best player, Terry Clayton, is deaf.

That's just what Clayton wants to hear.

Despite losing his hearing at age 5 after a bout with chickenpox and a high fever, Clayton has attacked sports like any other young athlete. He doesn't want to be perceived as different or special because he has a disability.

''I just want to be another football player,'' he said through his sign-language interpreter, Karen Williams.

But that's just the thing. Clayton isn't just another football player. He's too good to be considered that.

Clayton, a thick-bodied 6-foot 220pounder, is a member of the Kentucky all-star team that will play Tennessee's all-stars tomorrow night at the University of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium.

He also has accepted an invitation from UK coach Rich Brooks to walk on with the Wildcats. UK allows for interpreters in the classroom, and the football team is expected to have an interpreter on the field when Clayton begins practice in August.

''He treats it like it's just the next step,'' Williams said. ''As far as he's concerned, he was supposed to make the all-star team, he's supposed to play college football and he expects to play pro football.''

Wood, a member of the selection committee that chose Kentucky's allstars, said he never hesitated to recommend Clayton, who was a linebacker and fullback at Logan County and will play linebacker for the all-stars.

''I've played against him for the last four years in the district, and to me he's always been a great inspiration,'' Wood said. ''You can't tell he's deaf by his play. He's done a great job of adapting. He's a tremendous football player.''

When Clayton lost his hearing, he went to the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville through the fifth grade.

He returned home to Logan County for the sixth grade and played football in a recreational league. As a seventh-grader, spurred on by Logan County coach Lee Proctor, who was one of Clayton's teachers at the time, he went out for the junior high football and basketball teams.

''I think the thing about Terry is that he never used his deafness as a crutch or an excuse,'' Proctor said. ''He always thought of himself as a football player who just happened to be deaf, not a deaf kid who just happens to play football.''

Clayton has shown determination off the field as well. He earned a 3.2 grade-point average and was named Logan County's Cougar of the Year, which goes to the school's top allaround student.

Proctor said he never was concerned about whether Clayton would join the football team because the two had gotten to know one another so well in class.

''Terry was really good at reading lips and reading body language,'' Proctor said. ''Once we developed a system of communication, everything went very smoothly.''

That system involved Williams shadowing Proctor's every movement and signing the words back to Clayton. That way Clayton never had to take his eyes away from the coach.

Proctor also developed a way of sending in plays on offense through hand signals. Clayton had the plays on his wristband, and he simply converted the hand signals into the play called.

''It worked so well with Terry, we figured, 'Why couldn't this work for everybody?' '' Proctor said. ''Now all of our players on offense wear wristbands with the plays. That's something that Terry really helped us develop.''

Clayton couldn't hear the snap count from the quarterback, so he either watched the ball or his teammates to know when to move on offense. It was simpler on defense; Clayton, like every defender, moved when the ball was snapped.

And even though Clayton couldn't hear the whistle, Proctor couldn't remember a single late hit. Officials often asked Proctor before the game how Clayton knew when to stop.

''If anything, Terry might have pulled up a little early sometimes,'' Proctor said. ''But you couldn't really tell any difference between him and the rest of the players.''

Just as Clayton did at Logan, he quickly fit in this week with the Kentucky all-stars. Other than the presence of his interpreter during practice and meetings, Clayton has been like any other player, living in the UK dorms, eating at the dining hall and hanging out with the guys after practice.

While Williams helps Clayton at practice with specific instructions from the coaches, Clayton is on his own when he hits the field during scrimmages, running to the ball, dropping into pass coverage and shedding blockers.

''It's no problem,'' he said. ''It's just football.''

* Tickets are $10, with ages 6 and under free.

Copyright 2002 The Courier-Journal.