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December 5, 2004

Read these lips: LeFors can do

From: Louisville Courier Journal, KY - Dec 5, 2004

NEW ORLEANS — There were all there, more than 250 family members, friends and admirers, dressed in red T-shirts, waving signs and trying to fill the empty Louisiana Superdome with noise and love any time Stefan LeFors twitched his shoulder pads.

The former junior high coach from Baton Rouge, La., who remembered the time when he called three friends who were college football head coaches and was told emphatically there was no room for a modestly talented 6-foot quarterback in major-college football — no matter if the kid was great with sign language after growing up with deaf parents and grandparents.

The deaf paternal grandfather who refused to stop communicating with an interviewer until he signed that the University of Louisville's 55-7 victory over Tulane punctuated a 10-1 football season that was delightful in every way — except for the series when his grandson, LeFors, sat and Brian Brohm played.

"They should respect Stefan the way Stefan respected (Dave) Ragone," said Nick LeFors, who came to see his grandson do more than complete 19 of 27 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown while running for another. Nothing less than every snap would please this proud grandpa.

The neighbor who wanted everybody in Louisville to understand that LeFors has actually completed nearly 75 percent of his passes this season with his 'off' arm because he is a natural right-hander who morphed into a lefty after he fell from a tree and broke his right arm as a toddler.

They all lined up to extend the little fingers and index fingers on their right hands and wave their love to LeFors.

"No way I could have imagined a day like this when I was in high school," LeFors said. "Impossible."

"I don't know how to describe how I feel today," said LeFors' mother, Susan, furiously working her hands to sign her emotions. "It's a little too much. I never imagined anything like this when Stefan left home for Louisville. Never. It's very inspirational."

You could say that. The 80 or so students from the Louisiana School for the Deaf who made the 70-mile bus ride from Baton Rouge to see their hero certainly would. So would the large knot of former high school, junior high and elementary school pals who made the trip.

And the several dozen LeFors family members who traveled here from Baton Rouge; Austin, Texas; Jackson, Miss.; and St. Augustine, Fla.; to enjoy LeFors' final regular-season college game in a season in which he has passed Louisville to ninth in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

They distributed 200 bright red 'Krewe of 17 LeFors" T-shirts — and could have sold 200 more. LeFors would have flashed his Cajun smile and signed every one of them.

"Growing up the way I did, I realize people who are deaf don't have it as good as other people," LeFors said. "I know they look up to me. I feel a responsibility to do everything the right way."

Five generations

"There are deaf people going back at least five generations in Stefan's family," said Alice Chandler, LeFors' 74-year-old aunt from Jackson. "It's probably genetic, but only God knows why. Stefan was blessed with the ability to hear. So many people in his family have looked up to him. He's taken that and developed it for all of us to enjoy."

Of LeFors' two parents and three living grandparents, Wauldine Carter, his maternal grandmother, is the only one who can speak. She has been legally deaf since she contracted whooping cough as a young girl in Texas, but she can read lips and converse. Linda LeFors, a high school teacher and volleyball coach, lost her hearing because of the mumps at 18 months. The story is the same for his father, Larry; brother, Eric; and other extended family members.

"The way doctors have explained it to the family, there is a genetic weakness in both families," Carter said. "Any severe childhood disease attacks that weakness and takes away your hearing. That's the only explanation we have."

Nothing took away Stefan's hearing. What life tried to take away was something else — his belief he could play major-college football. Although he threw for more than 6,000 yards at Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge, although he was a skilled basketball and baseball player and although he ran the anchor leg on two state champion 4X100 relay teams, major college coaches deleted the message when LeFors asked about a scholarship.

The tape measure said he was 6 feet, but coaches suspected a generous measurement. Sure he ran anchor on the sprint relay team, but they couldn't see him outrunning linebackers in the Southeastern Conference — or Conference USA.

"I personally called three friends who were head coaches at smaller schools," said Gip Mansur, LeFors' junior high football coach. "They wouldn't even look at the tape. They said, 'We've got enough slow 6-foot quarterbacks. Those guys can get you fired.'"

Insults are normal

Or they can inhale the insults and dedicate the next five years to making 116 NCAA Division I-A coaches look foolish.

If you have followed the University of Louisville, you know how this story has soared. LeFors sends tapes to every school in Louisiana as well as to Houston, East Carolina, Alabama Birmingham, Southern Mississippi, Louisville and elsewhere.

One Division IA school offered him the opportunity to play quarterback, but only after he sat for three seasons behind Dave Ragone. He played like the best quarterback in C-USA last season, throwing for 3,145 yards and 17 touchdowns.

His reward?

Come back for his senior season and stop Brohm, Kentucky's Mr. Football, from taking his job. In August it wasn't difficult to find folks predicting Brohm would be the starter by October. That never happened. Never really came close. But LeFors still had to share several series with Brohm in nearly every game.

His friends and family members have howled (a family member said Stefan's father declined interview requests yesterday because he was upset his son didn't get more snaps), but Stefan has done nothing but say the right thing, do the right thing and play as if he deserves an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony next weekend in New York City. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes in 8 of 11 games, quarterbacking the Cards to the highest national ranking in school history.

"I don't know how you could play better than Stefan has played," U of L receiver J.R. Russell said. "That's not possible. Stefan is special. I love Stefan."

All the friends and family members in the Superdome yesterday can certainly understand that.

You can reach Rick Bozich at (502) 582-4650 or Submit questions at

Copyright 2004 The Courier-Journal.