For Newton third-grader Noah Pauls, there was one element in particular that enticed him to try out football for the first time this year.
"I just wanted to tackle people," Pauls said.
While Pauls can feel the rush of adrenaline that comes with making a defensive stop, there is one part of the tackle he can't fully experience — hearing that thud of the body-on-body collision.
Pauls' mother, Ruth Flickinger, noted he is diagnosed as moderately to profoundly deaf. He was born that way, but neither she nor her son want that to be a deterrent from attempting anything — including playing football with the Newton Railer Junior Football program this fall.
Third-grade team assistant coach Kenny Hampton noted that he is excited to work with Pauls this season. While Pauls is the first deaf player he has coached, he noted in some ways his inability to hear actually puts him on the same page with the rest of his teammates.
"He's a pretty energetic young man and it's not a challenge at all because we don't have a problem with him listening," Hampton said. "All the kids being third graders, getting their attention is one of the things that we have to work at a lot, so he falls right in there with them."
Another equalizer is the fact that coaches will no longer be on the field with the team in third-grade football. Instead, hand signals — a form of communication with which Pauls is already familiar — will be utilized to relay in plays and other directions.
Some of Pauls' teammates, who have been with him in the same class since pre-school, are also somewhat familiar with communicating through sign language — and have been using that, along with a numbering system, to help him learn the playbook. Even the coaches have gotten in on using some signs Flickinger has taught them to help Pauls in adapting to a new experience.
"I think it's a little bit harder when you're learning a new game and trying to understand the plays," Flickinger said. "You can't hear it being explained, so you're not always sure."
"We're trying to teach the kids, basically, that it's teamwork — helping each other get lined up, get back to the huddle, get the play off — it's all working together. They all look out for each other. They haven't really had a problem. Everybody's been working together and they all knew him (Pauls) before we did," Hampton said. "It's actually been pretty interesting as far as learning things from his mom as well on different signals. When we need him to hurry up, we'll just make a gesture and he knows, so we learned a lot from his mom."
The first true test of the season comes this weekend, as the team opens up competition on Saturday. While practice has been going on since mid-August, including a recent scrimmage against Maize that went well, Hampton said game action will show just how fruitful the coaching staff and team's preparation efforts have been — including those techniques utilized to help Pauls.
One thing is for certain though, according to coach and player alike — Pauls is ready for action.
"I'm ready for the championship," Pauls said.
Plenty of season remains before Pauls and his team get to that point, but that can-do attitude is par for the course with the young athlete and it doesn't stop with sports.
Fitting that in September — National Deaf Awareness Month — Pauls is getting ready to start competition in football, as he is also extremely active in the Newton deaf community and illustrating that his inability may be an obstacle, but it is not a limitation — with his mother and coaches being on the same page.
"I think the most important thing with him playing football and being involved is that people just realize that he's just a normal kid," Flickinger said. "The only thing he can't do is hear and the biggest barrier's just learning how to communicate and other people learning how to communicate with him, but other than that he's just a normal kid."
"There's no limits to anything anyone can do, as long as you try," Hampton said. "We're learning a lot this year, and it's working out so far."