Chillin' with Dylan— AC calls an inaudible

Staff Writer

    I like to think of it as a quiet calm.
    Sports are tough as it is without kids playing them through disabilities.
    It’s on sports channel shows all the time whether it’s the sprinter without legs or the baseball player who holds his glove under his armpit until he pitches, then switches to his throwing hand because he is missing a limb.
    Those are the stories that inspire and put perspective to the rest of our excuses and failures.
    For those of you looking for such inspiration, travel down to Monroe Friday night and watch the Flying Jets try and stay undefeated when they host the Heritage Patriot football team.
    Part of a three-pronged running back machine, Stephen Eicher is completely deaf.
    The senior ventures out onto the field every Friday night during the fall and performs kick-off returns, punt returns and when the coach calls his number, bolts to the outside on a designed run play.
    I can’t imagine myself playing a hectic sport like football as the quarterback. Standing in the pocket before the snap you look around and just take it in for a second.
    There is the crowd hum that never seems to go away...probably the acoustics of being on the field in surround sound with fans on both sides. Then there’s the constant screaming of coaches on the sidelines explaining just which linebacker in the defense’s designed play is supposed to reach you first.
    Calling the play is hard too trying to get everyone in sync when an audible is necessary. Why is it called an audible at the line?
    Because you can hear it.
    For Stephen, the challenge isn’t so much in sifting through the noise to get through the jitters of the next play, it’s making sure he has the right play to begin with.
    Like I said, a quiet calm.
    Stephen has an interpreter on the sidelines with him and in the huddle during timeouts. While the rest of the team has their ears towards Andrew Hammond under center, Stephen has his eyes towards the sidelines watching his interpreter.
    His number is called.
    Having watched Stephen for three and half years now on the team, I can only hope for Heritage’s sake that they put two or three defenders in front of him because if the senior gets a head of steam he is gone.
    And Stephen doesn’t have the decision-altering gift of hearing when he has the ball in his hands. He only has what he can see in front of him. He tucks the ball secure and just runs where there aren’t any defenders.
    It sounds obvious but when you look out at any other running back at any other football game you realize that when they hear footsteps behind them or beside them the run becomes a different pattern.
    Sure there will always be the gifted running back who can dodge with a juke turning plays into big gains but for every juke play there are three or four loss of yardage plays because guys are dancing around in the backfield waiting for that hole to appear.
    Stephen doesn’t have that luxury, which makes him a unique athletic talent on the field. He runs forward. Always forward.
    Perhaps because of his lack of hearing his feet have gained superhuman speed. At least that’s what it looks like to me from the press box. The kid has a talent for getting to the outside before anyone else does.
    He’ll do the same thing to defenders on a kick-off. He doesn’t have to hear a thing if the defenders never touch him to begin with. I’ve seen my share of great returns, even some that go for six unopposed. Most of them from Eicher in the last four years.
    If you’re not doing anything Friday night and you want your kids to stop complaining about their cell phone reception or Facebook time, go see Stephen and the Jets play Heritage.
    It really is amazing to watch #32 run between the tackles.
    Coach Michael Mosser instills a sense of family with his football teams, as all good gridiron coaches should do, but that family draws closer together somehow when Stephen has the ball.
    It’s like his teammates are protecting him when they throw the block. Stephen can take care of himself, sure. And over the past four years he has taken a beating between the tackles.
    There’s just nothing quite like a team with a sense of pride for their own. The boys will rally around each other tomorrow when the Patriots come to town for homecoming week.