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Deaf cornerback inspires OSU

July 30, 2007

By Tully Corcoran

The Capital-Journal

Published Thursday, July 26, 2007

Martel Van Zant


Coach — Mike Gundy, third season (11-13 overall)

Returning starters — 15 (offense 8;

defense 7).

2006 record: 7-6.

Quick kick: Oklahoma State boasts one of the Big 12’s most explosive offenses. OSU averaged 35 points per game last season and was one of two teams in the country to average 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game.


September — 1 At Georgia; Florida Atlantic; 14 at Troy; 22 Texas Tech; 29 Sam Houston State.

October — 6 at Texas A&M; 13 at Nebraska; 20 Kansas State.

November — 3 Texas; 10 Kansas; 17 at Baylor; 24 at Oklahoma.

SAN ANTONIO — Oklahoma State cornerback Martel Van Zant thinks OSU’s Boone Pickens Stadium is the loudest venue in the Big 12.

However — and this is important — Martel Van Zant is completely deaf.

“I can feel the vibrations in the stands,” he said through an interpreter Wednesday at Big 12 Media Days in San Antonio. “Texas, they get pretty loud down there, too. We’ll see what happens in Georgia and Nebraska.”

Van Zant is a deaf football player, which means he does a lot of guessing. The only things Van Zant has ever been able to hear are the starting guns at track meets, and those were hit-and-miss at best. He wasn’t starting on the sound, he was starting on the smoke, a decided disadvantage. Van Zant doesn’t play to the whistle, he plays until everybody else stops playing. The bonus is, he never jumps offside. The bummer is, he’s guilty of the occasional late hit.

“Sometimes it happens,” he said. “All deaf players play like that.”

Not many play major college football, however. Van Zant doesn’t know any other deaf college football players. The only one he’s ever heard of was former Nebraska All-American Kenny Walker, who was deaf since age 2.

Van Zant has been deaf since birth.

“My mom got sick when she was pregnant with me,” he said. “Chicken pox. That’s what made me go deaf.”

It took him a few years to grasp his condition. As a kid, Van Zant would see a group of kids playing and try to join.

“I noticed the kids would stop playing,” he said. “But I didn’t know why.”

He has dealt with a lot of that. And not just from kids. Growing up playing youth football, he got the sense he was a part of the team in name only.

“They weren’t trying to coach me,” he said. “They just wanted to make sure I was involved.”

It wasn’t long before everybody wanted to coach him.

Van Zant never went to deaf schools because wanted to play football and he wanted a normal education. At Tyler, Texas’ Lee High School, he recorded 21 career interceptions. He was all-East Texas. Colorado, Texas A&M, SMU, TCU and Arizona came calling. But when college coaches found out he was deaf, many of them lost interest.

“I feel like a lot of the colleges were not really discriminating, they didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Former Cowboys coach Les Miles, who has a deaf brother, did. He came with a pen, paper, and some limited sign language.

“He knew a few signs,” Van Zant said. “We wrote notes back and forth. That’s just the tendency of what deaf people have to do. I could understand what he was saying.”

Van Zant brings an interpreter everywhere he goes, from the classroom to the practice field. Hilarity ensues when coach Mike Gundy yells at Van Zant, which means he’s really yelling at Ally Lee, Van Zant’s interpreter.

“Oh, yeah, he’s really loud,” Van Zant said. “If the coach is yelling at me, Ally has to give me the signs and the expression the coach has.”

Some of Van Zant’s teammates can throw some signs back at him.

“Some of them have learned sign language,” Van Zant said. “A lot of them want to learn the cuss words first.”

Van Zant teaches them. But the relationship runs deeper than silent F-bombs.

“He’s a special guy, man,” receiver Adarius Bowman said. “Special guy. You almost forget that he’s deaf. I talk to Martel same as I’m talking to you right now. It’s been a great experience. He’s a great inspiration to our team.”

It is, in many ways, an upset that Van Zant is a starting cornerback in the Big 12. If it wasn’t the kids avoiding him or the coaches not coaching him, it was Van Zant’s own mother, Alice, impeding his football development.

“My mom didn’t want me to play football,” he said. “She was worried about me getting hit.”

People have learned to quit trying to stop him.

“Now,” he said, “they’ll let me do whatever.”

Tully Corcoran can be reached at (785) 295-5652 or tully.corcoran@cjonline.com.


Categories: Past Articles, Sports
  1. Peachlady
    July 31, 2007 at 8:52 am

    Thanks for sharing this story about him. I am one of the Univeristy of GA Fans. I’ll watch the game on Sept 1st.

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