UPDATE, Jan. 11, 1:30 p.m. ET: Derrick Coleman has since been moved to running back for the Seattle Seahawks, while also carrying the duties of fullback.
Before the season, the Seattle Seahawks were a popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and after a 2-0 start — includes a dominating 29-3 victory over the reigning NFC champion 49ers — those preseason predictions appear to ring true. The Seahawks are led by a dynamic young quarterback in Russell Wilson, an all-pro running back in Marshawn Lynch and an absolutely punishing defense.
One position that never seems to lead the league in jersey sales or media coverage is the fullback. It’s the most thankless skill position on the field. Fullbacks rarely see the ball, and the only time their names are mentioned is when they miss an assignment or are featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks.
It takes a certain type of man to cherish that role, and in Seattle that man is Derrick Coleman. However, Coleman is different than the typical NFL fullback — not because he hits like a Mack truck or possesses uncommon speed for his size — but because he’s deaf.
The former UCLA tailback has been legally deaf since the age of 3 and can only hear sounds and tones without the hearing aids, but that has never slowed him down on the football field, where he relies primarily on lip reading and hand signals. According to the recruiting website Rivals.com Coleman was the fifth-ranked high school fullback in the class of 2008 and during his four years at UCLA he rushed for over 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns. Despite his success, he went undrafted in the spring of 2012.
After the 2012 draft, Coleman was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Vikings, yet failed to make the final roster. The Seahawks scooped him up for their practice squad, and due to his great work during camp and the preseason, Coleman was named the team’s starting fullback.
As head coach Pete Carroll put it, “[Coleman] just came through in a beautiful way. He sent a big message about special teams. He’s had a great camp on special teams. He’s all over the place; he’s a core guy there. We know he can carry the ball, too, if we need him to. He catches the ball really well. And he’s learning the system as a fullback. He outlasted the competition in this one to go into the opener as the starter. That’s a big accomplishment for Derrick, and we’re really excited about him.”
Coleman, who wears a skullcap under his helmet to make sure his hearing aids don’t pop out, is exactly the type of player coaches love. He’s unassuming, never gives excuses, works hard on special teams, and shows up to team meetings “30 to 45 minutes early” in order to gain an edge. According to his teammates, Coleman’s hearing disability has never been an issue at all, thanks to an exceptional ability to read lips. In fact, Coleman considers his disability anything but a handicap. “When it gets loud I feel like I have the advantage,” he told The Seattle Times. “I can tune that out.”
Coleman has been overcoming odds his entire life, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he leapfrogged former Pro Bowler Michael Robinson on the depth chart in preseason and earned the starting position. Nevertheless, he’s not quite satisfied yet. “I’m happy that I get an opportunity to go out there and play and help this team do something,” he said to Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com. “But at the same time, I’ve just got to keep working hard because it doesn’t stop here.”
No matter what happens from here on out, don’t expect Derrick Coleman to make any excuses.