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October 29, 2004

LeFors signals success for Louisville

From: San Francisco Chronicle - San Francisco,CA,USA - Oct 29, 2004

- CHRIS DUNCAN, AP Sports Writer
Friday, October 29, 2004

(10-29) 13:14 PDT LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) --

Stefan LeFors grew up deciphering body language and expressing himself without words.

The Louisville quarterback doesn't remember when he realized much of his family, including his parents, were deaf. By the time he did, communicating with hand signals had become second nature -- he was adept at it by the time he was 5.

Now, when his parents see him motioning to the sidelines during a game, they joke that he's trying to strike up a conversation.

"They try to guess what I'm trying to say," he said. "They laugh when they see me doing that."

Barely recruited out of high school, LeFors has developed into the top-rated passer in the country while leading No. 14 Louisville (6-1, 3-0 Conference USA) to a place among the nation's best teams.

Louisville was the only school that offered LeFors a football scholarship.

"I always knew I could play," said the left-hander from Baton Rouge, La. "It was all about getting the opportunity. I was very lucky to get into a program like this."

Not long after he learned how to run, LeFors was playing football in the backyard with his father and older brother, the way many future stars were introduced to the game.

The big difference was that LeFors' father and brother are deaf. So are his paternal grandparents and three of his uncles. Larry LeFors, Stefan's father, was born deaf like his parents. Stefan's mother, Susan, became deaf as a child after having the mumps. His brother, Eric, also went deaf after having the mumps.

Eye contact was vital in the LeFors household, and the quarterback said that might explain his skill at reading defenses.

"I learned to communicate with my eyes from a young age, learning to pick things up," he said. "Maybe a guy from a normal hearing family wouldn't pick that up."

Mentored by his brother, who set national records at the Louisiana School for the Deaf, LeFors put up big numbers at Christian Life Academy. But no top-tier programs showed any interest, not even nearby LSU.

Larry LeFors scrambled to put together a highlight film of his son and sent it out to more than a dozen schools, "from Hawaii to East Carolina," Stefan remembers.

When Stefan called to make sure his tapes had arrived, virtually every school told him, "We'll call you back."

Even Louisville.

"I was just waiting, waiting, waiting," he said. "At times, I got frustrated, not thinking anything was going to happen. I was ready to just try and walk on at Louisiana-Lafayette.

"But good things ended up happening."

Scott Linehan, Louisville's offensive coordinator at the time, called and told LeFors he and the coaches liked what they saw on the tape.

"Coach Linehan asked if I wanted to be a Cardinal and that was it," LeFors said.

He impatiently backed up Dave Ragone for two seasons, then had renewed doubts about his future when Bobby Petrino replaced coach John L. Smith, who bolted for Michigan State.

LeFors' skills turned out to be a perfect match for Petrino's complex offense. LeFors was the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year in 2003, completing 61 percent of his passes for 3,145 yards and 17 touchdowns.

This season he's looked even better, completing 77 percent of his passes for 1,164 yards with seven TDs and only one interception. His 179.2 passer rating places him ahead of prototype NFL prospects such as Southern California's Matt Leinart, California's Aaron Rodgers and Purdue's Kyle Orton.

Listed at 6-feet and 200 pounds, LeFors only measures with those guys in production.

Two weeks ago, he shredded Miami's defense for two quarters, completing 13 of 15 passes for 202 yards in the first half. LeFors left the game with a concussion and the Hurricanes rallied for a 41-38 victory.

Last week, LeFors completed his first 13 passes and finished 21-of-26 for 242 yards in a 41-9 rout of South Florida. Next up for the Cardinals is a pivotal C-USA game at Memphis on Thursday night.

"He has a really good idea where he wants to go with the ball," Petrino said. "What he does best is just read the defense and deliver the ball where it should go."

LeFors attributes his accuracy simply to experience.

"Every game I play, there's more a sense of feel for what I'm doing," he said. "Once you learn the offense, the more comfortable you get, the more confident you feel. Right now, I'm feeling pretty good out there."

Growing up, LeFors often translated for family members out in public or over the phone. He never liked being the center of attention and doesn't now, even as his numbers garner an increasingly intense spotlight.

"If I could have it either way, I'd rather still be an unknown, in the shadows," LeFors said. "It's nice to be in that category and be ahead of so many great quarterbacks, but I'd rather have a lot more wins than those guys. I would much rather win a game than go 20-for-20 and lose."


©2004 Associated Press