'I feel like it's an advantage for me': Deaf football player shines on varsity team

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Posted at 12:24 PM, Apr 26, 2021

LANCASTER, N.Y. — Every football team has its own way of relaying formations, plays and schemes to the players on the field. If in-helmet headsets aren't an option, coaches often get creative.

If you watch closely, depending on who you're watching, you might see memes on large posterboards on the sideline. The Lancaster Legends in New York use superheroes as a part of their vernacular on offense. The high school's defense, on the other hand, signs in the coverages.

"We've really always done it that way," Lancaster head coach Eric Rupp said. "Especially for the secondary."

That makes varsity football much easier for junior cornerback Henry Smistek.

"I don't think there's a challenge most of the time," Smistek said. "The coaches sign to me, and I can understand clearly from far away on the field."

Smistek was born deaf. He picked up football in the eighth grade, and this spring is his first season on Lancaster's varsity team. Once the huddle breaks, if the Legends make any more adjustments, he has a football-specific interpreter, too.

"Amy [Saskowski has] been a huge help as well. Because there's things throughout the game that you want to make adjustments or checks to," Rupp said. "You have to get creative, because football has its own vernacular. But they make it work."

Between the lines and between the whistles, the game is almost simplified. There's no crowd noise. There's nobody talking trash. It's just Henry and his assignment.

"I feel like it's an advantage for me," Smistek said. "I can't hear any of it. So I just ignore it, you know? I just can't hear whatever they're jabbing on the field about."

This story was originally published by Adam Unger at WKBW.