Hands-on game: Deaf Clovis boy plays football with eyes, heart and some help

Kodi Myers, 10, of Clovis watches as his dad Grante signs the coaches’ halftime message to him during the Redskins Play Inc. football game Saturday at Jim Hill Field. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth

By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer

Kodi Myers pays close attention to what his coaches say, even if he’s not looking at them. He communicates with his teammates, although no words come from his mouth. He looks to the crowd for instruction from his mother. He understands all, but hears nothing.
Kodi, 10, was born deaf, but his parents, Grante and Leah Myers, made sure it never limited Kodi’s activities. He’s played basketball, tried youth rodeo, and rides horses, but this fall he signed up to play for the Redskins of the Play Inc. youth football league.
“He’s never felt he’s disabled about anything,” his grandfather Earl Vandiver said. “He loves it.”
It took his grandparents a little convincing, however. His grandmother Shirley Vandiver at first didn’t like the idea of Kodi playing.
“At first I told him I wouldn’t go,” she said.
Kodi pleaded with her, asking why she refused to see him play.
“Then he made me feel bad,” she said. “Now I just shut my eyes a lot.”
His family is always with him. Either his mother, father or grandmother are at the games and practice translating what the coach says. While the team looks at the coach, Kodi pays attention to his translator.
“It didn’t bother the coaches that he was deaf and they have been excellent with him,” Kodi’s mother said.
Coach Marcelious Lunsford and assistant Mike Phillips said they didn’t change anything for Kodi, either to make things easier or to accommodate him.
“They’ll hit him pretty good,” Kodi’s grandfather said. “But he’ll hit them right back.”
Kodi signed to his mother, who then translated that hitting is his favorite part of the game.
Lunsford said Kodi just has to see two or three players on a specific drill to know what’s going on.
“He pays a lot more attention than some of the other players we have,” he said.
Lunsford said being deaf does have one advantage: “When I’m yelling, he can’t hear.”
But being deaf makes things harder for Kodi. He can’t hear the snap count so offense is out of the question. He’s smaller and thinner than many of his teammates, so he’s a back-up at safety, which allows him to see the entire field and not have to react instantly to the snap. From the beginning, he’s been on the kickoff team.
Kodi doesn’t mind staying on defense.
“You get hit and then you fall,” he signed of playing offense.
The only point of apprehension for Kodi’s mother came in that first game.
“He knew what he was doing, but I didn’t know he knew what he was doing,” she said.
She said at times Kodi gets lost with what’s going on.
“The kids make sure he knows what’s going on,” she said.
Kodi is a fifth-grader at Parkview Elementary, where he has a translator helping him in his classes. However, none of the players on the Redskins go to school with him and he didn’t know any of them when the season started.
At first, his teammates didn’t realize Kodi was deaf. It took about a week for Kodi and the team to really start communicating, coaches and players said. Kodi reads lips well and the players use basic hand signals. He signed that he’s pretty sure he understands what they’re trying to tell him.
The only sign not obvious to Kodi is when his teammates use their index finger in a pinching motion to sign for running, which isn’t correct sign language, just something the team came up with.
“You’d think he’d have 10 other big brothers out on the field with him,” Lunsford said. “The kids on the field do a lot of coaching.”
“They’re my friends,” Kodi signed.
Player Duncan Lunsford admitted Kodi’s done a lot better than he thought he would when the season began. He’s had six or seven tackles in the team’s first five games.
“He can hit just as hard as anybody else; he can play just like anybody else,” Redskin Kenneth Betts said.
For Redskin Damien Phillips, the experience goes beyond just football.
“He changed my point of view,” he said.