MARTINSVILLE, N.J. (AP) — A little trash talk and some crowd noise can be big distractions on a football field.
Not for Adham Talaat.
The talented defensive end is deaf, though he hears just fine with hearing aids. But he didn't wear them on the field while he played at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C.
Talaat, a late bloomer in high school, was a standout player in college. Now he's hoping for a chance in the NFL in next week's draft and wants teams to ignore his hearing problem.
"I don't view my hearing loss as any detriment or hindrance at all. I actually feel that it is an advantage for me," Talaat said in an email to The Associated Press. "Crowd noise and trash talk does not faze me. An important point to consider is that NFL stadiums are loud. Players can't always hear each other, so they use signals or signs on the sidelines, which is non-verbal communication. That happens to be my specialty."
Talaat has dreamed of playing in the NFL since watching John Elway lead the Denver Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl titles when he was a kid.
Dominating at the Division III level helped Talaat draw attention from scouts. More than 25 NFL teams have met with him or watched him play.
Now comes the hard part: waiting for a phone call when the draft kicks off next week.
"The odds were stacked against me since I was born," Talaat said. "Hypothetically, if I went to a BCS school and performed the way I have at Gallaudet, I would be in contention for a first-to-third round pick. It seems fitting because my entire life, nothing has ever been handed to me; I've always been snubbed and overlooked, and every time I have made those people regret it. My message to the NFL office personnel is this: Don't be the one to overlook me here, or I WILL make you sorry! All I need is the opportunity to be coached and compete. I will not disappoint!"
Talaat, who is 6-foot-6, and a lean 271 pounds, had five sacks and 46 tackles while facing mostly double-and triple-teams during his senior season. He spent 13 weeks training at TEST Sports Clubs this winter to improve his all-around skills. The hard work paid off when Talaat posted impressive numbers at Gallaudet's first-ever Pro Day last month.
Talaat ran a 4.94 40-yard dash, had a 30-inch vertical jump and benched 225 pounds 23 times. That's two more reps than Jadeveon Clowney, the South Carolina defensive end who might be the No. 1 overall pick. Talaat's time of 7.28 seconds in the three-cone drill was only .01 seconds slower than Clowney.
"His size, speed and wingspan are all NFL-caliber traits," said Kevin Dunn, owner and CEO of TEST Parisi Football Academy. "If you could tangibly measure Adham's will to win, desire to get better and the passion and purpose that is inside his heart, it would fill a stadium and add a tremendous amount of good character to any market in the NFL."
Talaat has a strong work ethic, a quality evident on a Friday afternoon in February when he stayed after practice to get more instruction on running the 40. He doesn't consider his hearing a handicap and never uses it as an excuse.
"We didn't give him any special treatment, made sure to treat him like everyone else, and I know he appreciated that," said Geir Gudmundsen, the academy's director of football operations. "He's the type of kid that will be the first one to the facility, and the last one to leave. He's certain that he was born to play football. When you hear him talk, you can feel his passion for the game. When you observe his workouts, you can see that he will not get outworked."
Talaat's journey has been filled with obstacles. He was diagnosed with profound to severe hearing loss at 18 months old. After being fitted with hearing aids, he started preschool early to learn how to speak. It didn't hold him back: He took regular classes and did well academically.
He was offered his only college scholarship from UMass-Amherst and accepted, but dropped out after the coach who recruited him left for another job. He turned to Gallaudet when a high school classmate told him the coach there was interested in him. He'd lived 30 minutes away from the school his whole life, but had never visited the campus. He knew it was the right fit for him after his first tour.
"I had an overwhelming good feeling inside and knew that this is where I am supposed to come," he said. "I never had that feeling anywhere else at any other school."
Talaat has drawn inspiration from Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman, the first deaf player to win a Super Bowl. The two met a few days before the Seahawks beat Denver in the big game.
"The fact that Derrick Coleman is thriving in the NFL despite his hearing loss is opening eyes and doors in that aspect," Talaat said.
Talaat, the son of Egyptian immigrants, also has aspirations beyond football.
"I want to help raise awareness and promote peace in the Middle East, and be a role model for the deaf community and deaf children," he said. "For every person that has ever been told the words: 'Deaf people can't do this, deaf people can't do that,' I want to be a living example that yes, they can."
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