A local football team is receiving national recognition forwinning its first championship in a decade. The twist here is that the players on the team are deaf. NBC Bay Area Stephanie Chuang has the story.
They stand 19 strong, led by a head coach who decided to switch up practice and play philosophy in his first year with them. This season it was clear they felt there was something to prove: Tthey could beat Bay Area teams who might’ve thought they had the edge.
And prove they did. The Eagles football team clinched the North Central II –Bay League title. What's more - every player and their head coach, Warren Keller, are deaf.
In his first year at the helm, Keller led his team to a 10-2 victory, clinching the North Central II-Bay League for the California School for the Deaf in Fremont. They beat out other teams who did not have to deal with the same disadvantages. In fact, not only did the Eagles have to overcome playing and connecting without the use of their voices, but they had a challenge in battling size.
Coach Keller recalled one of his team’s biggest opponents – Richmond High. NBC Bay Area spoke with Keller and three players Tuesday afternoon with the help of Ryan Lentz, an employee at the school, whose father was once a winning Eagles head coach.
“People weren’t sure if we could handle the big boys,” laughed Keller. “Half their team was probably over 200 pounds; on our team, nobody’s over 200 pounds.”
Junior Trace Martin added that his coach played to the team’s strengths of being smaller but quicker on the field. “This year we played like Oregon, the University of Oregon. We just keep moving. There’s no huddle, just constantly moving.”
Then the young coach, just 26 years old, recalled another prime moment this season. Their victory against Tomales High. “The boys were really excited. We haven’t beaten that school in a long time, maybe 40 years.” This season, they beat them – twice.
So how do they communicate their plays? Easy. Keller described three systems: signing plays, wearing wristbands with the plays written on them, and using posters – a system popular at the collegiate level.
But for these guys, the greatest reward has been the look they send their opponents whose faces often are plastered with doubt about the Eagles’ ability.
“I look at them and I can see that they think we’re nothing, that they can beat us, that we won’t beat them,” said Johnny Morales, an 18-year-old junior on the team. “They have big ego, fat head, and we get angry when we see that. When we get on the field we show them we’re better than them.”
Incoming quarterback Zane Pederson agreed, “Deaf schools have huge hearts, with huge hearts for football because it’s our passion.”
That passion and fight are evident. The group, just a fraction of the team, expressed how it has become family – a band of brothers who describe their bond as unbreakable, be it on or off the field. “You can’t play football with your own passion,” said Martin. “You have to play with your brotherhood, your team.”