Jay Mathew hits just as hard as his Clarkston High School football teammates. He counts down the warm-up exercises just like his teammates. To them, Mathew is just another football player.
The freshman linebacker/running back is profoundly deaf and has worked hard to be just like his teammates.
That effort was noticeable at a recent practice when Mathew was taking part in a tackling drill. After a teammate tackled him and knocked him to the ground, Mathew got up, held out his hands and gestured toward himself, as if to say “bring it on.”
Mathew was a standout last season for the Freedom Middle School team and now is trying to earn playing time at Clarkston. By all accounts, Mathew is fitting in well.
“I’ve got to stay close to him and move him around sometimes,” Clarkston coach Jay Rollerson said. “It’s not necessarily a challenge, just something different we have to do. Our other players are great about it. His teammates from Freedom Middle School understand him perfectly.”
Mathew has been playing football for about nine years, so he knows the routine. On offense, Mathew watches for a foot signal by the Clarkston quarterback to determine if he goes in motion on a particular play. On defense, Rollerson uses hand signals for the entire team, so Mathew just has to learn them like everyone else.
“My dad helps me learn how to do the plays,” Mathew said. My dad (Jerry Mathew Jr.) and coach (Rollerson) help me on offense and defense. My dad comes to some of the practices and talks to coach. He lets him know what’s up.”
Mathew also gets assistance when needed from Kelli Livingston, one of six interpreters on staff at Clarkston. Mathew is one of several deaf students participating in different activities this fall–softball, drill team, band, football and dance team.
He also participates in track and is contemplating joining the wrestling team this winter. Mathew, who has a spotter touch the back of his leg to signal the start of a race, ran on the 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams in middle school.
“He’s not different to (his teammates),” Livingston said. “At one of our first practices, a defensive player told me, ‘Tell Jay to look at me, I’ll tell him what to do.’ They think of him as just one of their teammates.”
Most of Mathew’s adjustment comes from moving up from middle school to the varsity level, not learning to compensate for his lack of hearing.
“Sometimes I get emotional when things are hard,” Mathew said. “It’s harder in high school to learn the different plays. Sometimes I feel like I’m at a disadvantage when I have to look at the interpreter when the coach is talking.”
However, a symbiotic relationship exists among the team.
“I help them and they help me,” Mathew said. “Any time it’s the first time doing something, you get confused. I just try to do my best. They see how I get emotional, but they support me. I support them, too.”