The center snapped the ball, pads crashed with pads, players grunted from the line of scrimmage, coaches yelled directions in the heat of the moment.
Hampshire running back Trevone Woods could barely hear any of it.
After the play ended at a recent Whip-Purs summer practice, Woods walked back to the huddle. His teammates discussed the play from the sideline while the next unit ran onto the field. Laurie Eder, an interpreter of the deaf, signed every word his teammates said for Woods.
The rising senior is hearing impaired and has been since birth. Mostly deaf, Woods reads lips and wears cochlear implants, which help him hear some sounds. But on the football field, with face masks obscuring mouths, it can be difficult to read lips.
Even so, Hampshire finds ways to make it work.
“He’s a pretty adaptable kid,” Hampshire coach Mike Brasile said.
Entering his second year at Hampshire, Woods hopes to contribute more this season. He served as a backup at running back and safety as a junior last year. This season, he figures to share playing time at both positions.
“I’m a senior now,” Woods said through Eder’s interpretation. “Right now, I’m comfortable. I really feel like I’m going to improve this year.”
The 16-year-old has come a long way from a year ago, when he transferred from a school of about 100 hearing-impaired students to Hampshire, a public school of some 1,500 students.
“I was pretty scared,” Woods said.
‘It’s not going to be easy’
For years Woods attended Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville, about 35 miles west of Springfield. Every Sunday, his mother, Tammy Glover, and his stepfather, Trenton Glover, drove him from their home in Aurora to Joliet, where a bus from the school picked up students from the Chicago area.
Woods rode the bus to school and stayed in a dormitory during the week. Every Friday he’d pack some things and head back on the bus to Joliet, where his family picked him up.
“It was too far to be traveling,” said Tammy Glover, who also has a slight hearing impairment.
While Woods attended school in Jacksonville, he picked up a passion: sports. Woods participated in football, basketball and track and field throughout middle school.
“That’s all his life has been based on,” Trenton Glover said. “If you look at the walls in his bedroom, there’s nothing up there except things he’s accomplished, medals he’s won.”
But attending school more than three hours from home took its toll. On top of that, he spent all his time with other hearing-impaired students.
Toward the end of his time there, it was apparent the school wasn’t the right fit for him.
Tammy Glover told Woods it was time for a change.
“It’s time for you to come up here closer to home, where I can help you better yourself,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy. There’s going to be difficult times, but we’re going to work through this together as a family.”
‘They understand me’
Hampshire houses the Northwestern Illinois Association’s Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing program. About 25 hearing-impaired students attend Hampshire, and the NIA provides sign language interpreters for their classes and extracurricular activities.
Woods admits he was uneasy about the move.
“He was used to being around deaf people,” Trenton Glover said. “In order for him to evolve in life, he needed to learn how to be around all people.”
Tammy Glover said she heard the words “I can’t” more often.
“I told him, ‘Never use that word in my house,’ ” she said. “Or at all, period, in your life.”
Woods turned toward the thing that had always been there for him: sports. He joined the football team at Hampshire. Before long, he was teaching his teammates sign language and striking up friendships.
Hampshire coach Mike Brasile and his staff faced a challenge they hadn’t encountered before.
“We were talking about how we’re going to make defensive calls and adjustments on the field,” Brasile recalled. “We’ve got to remember that Trevone needs hand signals in order to figure out what’s happening.”
Football is all about communication.
Coaches wear headsets and give hand signals from the sideline. Many college teams use cardboard signs to send signals to players on the field. NFL quarterbacks wear earpieces under their helmets to better communicate with coaches between plays.
“We’ve done a good job as a staff of learning sign language,” Brasile said. “Communicating with our offense and defense, everything is pretty much done through hand signals.”
In his backup role last season, the 6-foot, 200-pound Woods earned some playing time at the end of games. This year, everything feels more comfortable, and he’s ready to make an impact.
“Now there’s a lot more communication with the kids,” Woods said. “They understand me better.”
Eder serves as Woods’ primary interpreter in school, at practices and at games. She admits that she didn’t know all of the X’s and O’s of football when she started working with Woods.
The first few months, Eder asked the other coaches countless questions. It’s not easy to sign, “Follow the outside linebacker,” without knowing which player is the outside linebacker.
“She does a great job of simplifying sign language,” Brasile said. “Little things like how to block somebody or how to defend.”
Brasile said the team calls her Coach Eder. Not Laurie. Not Miss Eder. Coach Eder.
“I try my best to study up,” Eder said after a recent practice. “I have a playbook so I can study and learn myself and be able to help him be the best running back and safety he can be.”
Woods, standing beside her, grinned.
“And I’m thankful for that,” he added.
‘He’s so determined’
The hour commute between Hampshire and Aurora is still not easy, but it’s an improvement for Woods and his family. Some nights he spends at teammate Ben Corcelles’ house. A fellow senior, Corcelles is in the mix for the starting quarterback position.
Tammy Glover is thankful to Corcelles and his family for their friendship and hospitality.
“They treat him like he’s their own child,” Tammy Glover said. “They always tell me, don’t hesitate to call or ask for anything.”
Woods said Corcelles has become like a brother. If Corcelles does win the starting QB job, he could find himself handing the ball off to Woods in the backfield.
A year after transferring, Woods feels at home at Hampshire.
“It totally took him from a lack of confidence dealing with people to now he’s out there,” Trenton Glover said. “And he’s enjoying himself.”
Woods committed himself to football, no longer playing basketball or running track. And he has his sights set on the next level.
His mother sees how bad her son wants it.
“Never let your disability stop you or limit you from doing anything,” Tammy Glover said. “A living example is Trevone. He’s not going to stop.
“He’s so determined. He’s putting so much effort into his last year because he wants college coaches to see him.”
At NIA program at Hampshire, they like to use the saying, “Deaf can do.”
“I want to play football in college,” Woods said. “I want to show that deaf can do.”