Coaches, however, had no idea he couldn’t hear their instructions.
Chisley, who was born deaf, is in an eighth-grader at Pine Mountain Middle School. Through his efforts, he has become an inspiration to three other deaf players who have since joined the Junior Mustangs.
Antonio Ragland is a running back with Chisley on the eighth-grade team, while linebacker Andy Hua and kicker D.J. Jones are on the seventh-grade team. Coaches describe Chisley as humble and polite with a bright smile. But when he’s on the field, he’s a physical player at the running back and linebacker positions.
“He came for the first week and never said anything about a hearing impairment,” said Zach Freise, one of the Junior Mustang coaches. “We didn’t even know.”
Coaches didn’t suspect at first, because of Chisley’s ability to read lips. But his deafness was discovered once football language became more difficult.
The coaches knew something was wrong when Chisley would be late on snap counts or when he wouldn’t pick up on other small assignments as quickly as his teammates. Once Chisley’s deafness was confirmed, it was arranged for an interpreter to be on the sidelines by the time the season began.
Samuel Gonzalez, a teacher at Pine Mountain who works closely with the deaf and hard of hearing, attends all practices and games to sign for Chisley and the other new additions.
Thanks largely to Gonzalez, Chisley is no longer late on snap counts — or anything else.
When coaches teach the playbook and conduct drills, Gonzalez stands beside them and signs instructions to the players. To better help with communication, coaches have developed hand signals for both offensive and defensive players. Gonzalez also works with quarterbacks to come up with certain signals, the most obvious being a leg kick when Chisley is in the backfield, before a play goes into motion.
Gonzalez has to go back and forth between the seventh- and eighth-grade practices, coordinating with coaches on with which team he will be needed the most.
Quarterbacks are also learning sign language to effectively communicate with the deaf players.
“As an interpreter, you are a transparent conduit to communication,” Gonzalez said. “It’s as if we’re not there. I tell that to the coaches. I will be right here. We don’t want kids to feel that no one is talking to them. Coaches need to talk directly to the kids. I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.”
With the help of the interpreter, the coaches now get to see what kind of player Chisley can be. They speak highly of his intensity and how he has emerged as a leader of the eighth-grade team.
Since Chisley cannot hear, he doesn’t respond to trash talk from opposing teams, which can sometimes infuriate opposing players. He gets up after a play, goes back to the huddle and comes full speed on the next one.
Other times, Chisley has come close to getting called for unsportsmanlike conduct for inadvertently ignoring officials trying to verbally communicate with him. Teammates often approach officials to explain the situation when they’re about to pull out the yellow flag.
Whenever Chisley isn’t practicing at his full potential, Gonzalez has shown the coaching staff how to sign “turtle.” Whenever Chisley sees coaches give him the “turtle” sign, he uses it as extra motivation.
“I needed him to run a little quicker through the formations of offense,” Junior Mustangs coach Chris Goede said. “Mr. G turned to me and said he’s running like a turtle. And you told them that with the sign language. Sometimes, one of first things I do with him is give him the turtle hand signal. It’s a way to fire him up and to connect with him.”