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Deafness doesn’t deter University High receiver

Deafness doesn’t deter University High receiver

October 4, 2013
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For all intents and purposes, Julian Locke is a normal young man.

The University High School freshman likes to eat hamburgers and drink Big Red. He likes to wrestle with his father, and he’ll take the remote control away from him to put the television on ESPN if he doesn’t like what’s on.

He’s also quite an athlete, having played select baseball and on the middle school basketball team. This fall, he decided to add a third sport, when he went out for the University football team.

About the only thing that separates Locke from being just like everyone else is that he was born deaf.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve been learning to play sports and learning sign language,” Locke said through his interpreter, Jan Lovorn. “I learned to catch the ball, and I practice every day. Then when I watched my uncle and cousins play for the high school, I thought maybe I could become a running back (where his cousin played).”

He’s not a running back for the Trojans’ freshman team. Instead, he’s a starting inside receiver, having made a quick rise through the ranks.

On the first day of fall practice, Locke was a “third- or fourth-team guy — however many back they could go, he was that,” University coach Keith Willis said.

By the end of that first day, Locke had moved up to second team. By the end of the second day, he was a starter. He’s held that position ever since.

“He’s not a kid you’re going to be able to keep in the back,” Willis said. “He’s not that type of guy. He’s an outgoing kid. Other than his interpreter, he’s a normal kid. he’s got a partner there with him, but he commands the same kind of attention a normal kid would command.”

Willis said Locke is the first deaf player he’s had in 21 years as a coach, but he had a deaf teammate at Jefferson Moore High School in Rudy Duarte. He also saw first-hand the ability a team of deaf players could have when he coached at Lago Vista High School and saw the Vikings lose twice to the Texas School for the Deaf.

Still, Locke’s rise to the first team, particularly at the position he plays, did make Willis and his staff rethink some things.

“We were thinking about bringing in the play with the inside receivers, so we had to do something else with that,” Willis said. “Then, how do you call the snap count? We finally just narrowed it down to putting the onus on Julian to watch the ball. People were saying, ‘You can’t bring the interpreter on the field,’ so it took some thinking. We had to figure it out. But (Julian) is resilient.”

And he’s been around sports his entire life.

As far back as when Locke was 3 years old, his father, Guadalupe, can remember him having a ball in his hands.

At 5, Julian began playing T-ball before progressing to Little League and then to select baseball as a catcher, and he still lists baseball as his favorite sport. He hopes to make University’s varsity baseball team and has even greater aspirations down the road.

“I want to play for Texas (Rangers),” Julian said. “I want to be a catcher and third baseman, and I hope to hit a home run. You’ve got to hit it hard. I practice every Saturday with my dad. We go to the park, and I practice throwing the ball and running the bases.”

Guadalupe really didn’t want Julian to play football. He had to be convinced by Julian’s mother, Becky, and his brother and nephews to allow Julian to play, but said he loves “coming to see him and all the kids play football.”

Actually, Julian had played football before. That career lasted all of one game for the Southern Panthers when he was 7. Guadalupe explained that he was “chubbier” at that age, and his fingers got caught in another player’s helmet. He didn’t want to play any more after that, until this past summer, that is.

Cody Jones is Julian’s freshman football coach, and he goes back a way with the Locke family. Julian’s uncle, Rolando, was the starting quarterback for University in 2004, and Jones was his teammate.

Julian played basketball for Jones last year at Cesar Chavez Middle School, and the coach was impressed with his athleticism and refusal to allow any obstacles stand between him and his goals.

The fact that he’s been able to pick up football and become a starter so fast “speaks to his toughness.”

“He’s having to deal with all the challenges that every other kid has to deal with, whether they’re big enough, strong enough or fast enough, but on top of that, he’s got that communication barrier,” Jones said. “So he’s doing a good job with what everybody else has to do, plus he’s doing a good job of overcoming another obstacle. He never once — ever — uses that as an excuse. He’s never referenced it. 

He never even alludes to it. We can jump on him just as hard, and he never pouts. . . . And if (an opponent) were dumb enough to try to take it easy on him, Julian will plant him in the ground. There’s no mercy. He’s a stud athlete who happens to be deaf.”

And even though he can’t speak, Julian has no problems making friends. In fact, Guadalupe said they’ll meet people who interact with Julian and are shocked when they find out he’s deaf.

“We were afraid it was going to hurt him, but we’ve gotten this far and it hasn’t hurt him at all,” Guadalupe said. “He’s smart, real good in math. He listens at home, and it’s amazing he’s gotten this far being deaf. A lot of kids, it hurts them, and their parents don’t want them to play sports because if they’re deaf, they could get hurt. That’s one thing we were never afraid of him was getting hurt. . . . I’m just proud of him, 100 percent proud. I’m proud to be his dad.”



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