CINCINNATI -- While it's easy to take sides during the NFL playoffs, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who's rooting against Seahawks running back Derrick Coleman.
Coleman, 23, has been mostly deaf since he was 3. He requires the assistance of hearing aids to make out noises other than deep bass.
"Let's say I don’t have my hearing aids in and someone is talking to me, I know they're talking but I can't clarify what they're saying," Coleman was quoted as saying in an article on FoxSports.com. "Basically, that's what the hearing aids do, they enhance or amplify it so I can truly understand it. All I hear is like a bunch of mumbling and humming. That's what I hear."
While he knew he wanted to play football, it wasn’t always easy for him. In addition to being picked on in school, he didn’t receive support from his teammates and even his coaches.
“They told me it couldn’t be done, that I was a lost cause,” he said in a recent Duracell ad celebrating his accomplishments. “Coaches didn’t know how to talk to me. They told me I should quit."
Despite his perceived shortcomings, Coleman has never struggled on the football field. After a standout prep career, he went on to excel at UCLA.
He rushed for more than 1,200 yards and scored 16 touchdowns in his final two seasons as a Bruin by finding ways to adapt to the situation, according to former UCLA head coach Rich Neuheisel.
Neuheisel told Fox Sports reporter Ross Jones that Coleman refused to give up and kept working throughout his college career. In addition to being a productive member of the team, he said he never had trouble communicating with his star running back.
"The guys without any hearing impairment didn't hear what he heard,” Neuheisel said. “I mean, it was truly sensational at how he turned what others would consider a disability into anything but."
Coleman isn’t the biggest running back in the world at 6-foot, 233 pounds. He’s also neither the fastest nor the strongest guy, either. But Coleman feels it was his perceived handicap that kept him from being picked during the 2012 NFL Draft.
"It was a doubt in people's minds," Coleman told Fox Sports. "I understood what they were saying, so I needed to go out there and show them that you shouldn't be holding this against me."
After going undrafted, some people advised him to give up his dream and quit football, but Coleman refused to “listen.”
“They didn’t call my name, told me it was over, but I’ve been deaf since I was 3 so I didn’t listen,” he said in the ad.
Dedicated to his cause of making an NFL roster, Coleman did what he had to do to get on the field. One of the things he needed to do was change position -- from flashy running back to a bulldozing fullback.
Coleman signed as a rookie free agent with Minnesota Vikings on April 28, 2012 and played in three preseason games, rushing 19 times for 50 yards.
He had a decent showing, but the Vikings decided to cut him at the end of training camp. It wasn't because he was deaf or the fact coaches couldn't work with him. He just wasn't good enough at that time.
Committed and focused, Coleman kept working, kept struggling and kept overcoming misperceptions. He eventually got his shot with the Seahawks in December 2012 when he was signed to the team's practice squad.
After six months of working and struggling, on Sept. 8, 2013, Coleman's hard work paid off. He played in his first regular season NFL game, making three catches for 30 yards, in a 12-7 win over the Panthers.
Over the course of the season, he’s played in 12 games and had three starts.
"Now I’m here with the loudest fans in the NFL cheering me on – and I can hear them all,” he said.
His numbers weren't huge -- he had two rushing attempts for 8 yards and six catches for 62 -- but he did accomplish a goal of catching his first touchdown Dec. 2. It was a Monday Night Football game against the Saints.
While catching his first TD pass was a big deal for him, it wasn't the defining moment. Simply getting on the football field may prove to be the highlight of his career and what thousands of children across the country.
Coleman is the only legally deaf player to play on offense in a regular season NFL game.
Duracell created the ad campaign to both celebrate all Coleman has accomplished in life and help inspire others who face life challenges.
The video has gone viral -- as has the support for Coleman.
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