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November 6, 2003

Sounds of Silence

From: Burlington Hawk Eye, IA - Nov 6, 2003

IWC's Williams plays despite hearing loss.


MOUNT PLEASANT — Derek Williams jogs to the line of scrimmage and drops into his stance across from the opponent's center. He stares down at the football only a few feet away, awaiting the snap.

The center snaps the ball and Williams begins his rush. Williams pursues the ball. He stops when the players around him quit running, blocking and tackling.

The play is over. Williams looks to the sideline for coach Todd McGhghy's next defensive call. McGhghy relays the play by voice or hand signals. Williams joins his teammates in the defensive huddle. His eyes focus on the linebacker, who repeats the instructions. Williams breaks the huddle and returns to his position.

It all happens in a span of 30 seconds. It happens in silence for Williams.

Williams, a redshirt freshman, plays nose guard at Iowa Wesleyan College. He plays the game despite being deaf.

Williams was born with a high fever. From the fever, he lost complete hearing when he was three months old.

That never kept Williams away from the football field, where he has spent every fall for the last 10 years.

"I keep playing for the love of football," the Tallahassee, Fla. native said through translator Judy Self. "When I first started playing, it was hard to understand what was going on. As I played more, I understood more. Now, I'm used to it."

Williams has played in games for the Tigers this season. He is the backup to starting nose guard Ron Byrd.

"At first, I wondered how a deaf guy could play football," said Byrd, a sophomore from Macon, Ga. "It's hard enough to play football with all your senses. It's a good thing he can do it.

"Now, I can't even tell he's deaf. A lot of times I forget he is. He's just like a normal player. Everybody has accepted him."

Williams is the only deaf student living on the IWC campus. Self, who learned sign language while growing up with deaf family members, goes to each class with Williams as his interpreter.

Williams has no interpreter on the football field.

"Sometimes it's hard," said Williams, an accounting major who someday would like to teach sign language. "I can read lips good from the players and coaches."

"He makes me a better coach," said McGhghy. "When I coach Derek, I make sure to make eye contact and enunciate the words. I think it would be easier if we had sign language. Oh yeah, it was a challenge.

"He's good at reading body language without hearing the things on the field. If he sees that we're being lazy, then we're being lazy."

McGhghy admits sometimes it's a challenge to get Williams' attention. Williams laughed, knowing when to look away when he's about to get scolded.

"There are times when I want to chew his butt, but he's not looking at me. Sometimes it's better that he is deaf," said McGhghy, smiling at Williams. "Then I have to walk out there and tap him on the shoulder. He's treated equal. If he screws up, he's being told."

Williams said he misses the sounds of football each Saturday afternoon, particularly the officials' whistle which indicates when each play ends.

"That is the most challenging. I just stay aware of what goes on around me and I can tell when the play is over," said the 6–foot–2, 280–pound Williams, who bench presses close to 400 pounds. "It's also tough not being able to hear the emotion. I can only see it. I would love to hear it."

Williams attended Lincoln High School, a perennial football power in Tallahassee, Fla. He chose to play football at IWC, instead of enrolling at Gallaudet University, a college for the deaf in Washington, D.C.

"I'm just used to it, being around hearing people all my life," said Williams, who thanks former IWC coach Brett Holgorsen for recruiting him. "I've always felt more comfortable around hearing people."

Williams' mannerisms reveal his comfort at IWC.

"He walks around with headphones and the music turned on high," said Byrd. "He's also one of the biggest smack talkers on the team. When Florida State wins or when his high school team wins, everybody in the dorm knows about it.

"He's just like anybody else. I help him and he teaches me too. It's 50–50. He pushes me. Derek is very strong and explosive. He's a good person to put in there."

There was a time early this season when Williams nearly gave up football. He missed three practices during three–a–day workouts this summer.

"I thought about quitting once," said Williams. "My heart wasn't in it. Then I got a hold of my mom and brother. I decided this is what I love to do."

Williams returned to the field after serving a two–game suspension for his absence.

"A lot of kids simply would have quit," said McGhghy. "But he took his punishment and never complained. He shows up for practice and is on time to everything. He works very hard and does everything that is asked. Now, all of a sudden he's playing in games."

© 2003 Burlington Hawk Eye