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Senior College Football Columnist

Gallaudet's Talaat hopeful storybook journey leads him to NFL

Of all the thousands of draft hopefuls on NFL scouts' radars this fall, none has had a more interesting college career than Adham Talaat.

You probably have never heard of Talaat or the school he plays for, Gallaudet University, a Division III school in Washington D.C. with an amazing history. Gallaudet, founded by Abraham Lincoln in 1864, is the only university in the world that serves the deaf and hard of hearing. (The deaf community does not like reading or seeing "hearing impaired" or "handicapped" or people that suffer from hearing loss, according to a Gallaudet spokesman.) The school also is credited with inventing the football huddle in the 1890s. This fall, the Bison (9-1) are having their best season in its 149 years of existence and will play in the NCAA postseason for the first time in school history. Adham Talaat (pronounced Add-him TAL-at) is a big reason why.

A 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive lineman, Talaat is among his team's leaders in sacks (five) and TFLs (9.5) and is creating a little buzz in the NFL scouting community. His coach, Chuck Goldstein, says those stats actually are very misleading.

"The NFL scouts came in and said, 'Hey, you have to be dominant,' and he has done that this year. Adham dominates. He's been double-teamed almost every play and he's seen triple teams, which I've never seen here. He's been unselfish. He's been amazing. I know we're never gonna have another guy like him in our program again."

Talaat, who once was as heavy as 312 pounds, dropped weight to increase agility this season. Goldstein said the big lineman has clocked a 4.85-second 40, but he consistently runs between a 4.9 and a 5.0. He's also benched-pressed 225 pounds 27 times. "The thing the scouts really like about him is he's so long," said Goldstein. "He's a technician and he's playing with better pad-level this year and he has a motor that doesn't stop."

Talaat is classified as severely-to-profoundly deaf, but can hear pretty well when he has his hearing aids in -- although he usually plays without them. According to Goldstein, when a San Diego Chargers scout visits Gallaudet on Wednesday, it'll be the 24th NFL team that has come through Gallaudet to get a better read on Talaat. Scouts say Talaat looks like a D-I player, which probably shouldn't come as a shock considering he once was one.

Talaat began his college career at Massachusetts. A self-described late-bloomer, he grew from 5-10 as a high school freshman to 6-5 as a gangly senior in Springfield, Va.

"I had interest from some in-state schools like Richmond and ODU [Old Dominion], and then UMass," Talaat said via email. "I took an official visit to UMass after my senior season and was offered my only scholarship, with a grayshirt. At the time I was still naïve to the business side of Division I football, and based my decision on my relationship with the head coach [Don Brown was the coach and he left to take the defensive coordinator job at Maryland under Ralph Friedgen]. A week before I got to UMass, he took a coaching job at another school. Once I got to campus I realized that it wasn't the right fit for me, so I transferred to community college [Northern Virginia Community College], with restrictions on my release."

That meant a few of the better local FCS programs (ODU, Richmond), where he knew the coaches from the recruiting process, were off-limits for him. Talaat had no other contacts. His father was very upset and didn't want him to become a quitter, so he tried to teach his son a tough love lesson by not allowing him back home until he got a job and continued to enroll in classes in community college.

Talaat's father picked him up from UMass and dropped him off with his suitcase at his mother's one-bedroom apartment, where the big lineman slept on the floor. About a week later, Talaat got a job at TJ Maxx, working in the back room opening boxes off the delivery truck every day. As frustrated as he was, it was worse knowing that his kid brother was embarrassed of him whenever people at the school would ask, "What happened to your brother? to the point the kid couldn't look his older brother in the face.

Taalat runs a 4.85 40 and is confident a deaf player can play in the NFL. (Courtesy Gallaudet University)
Talaat runs a 4.85 40 and is confident a deaf player can play in the NFL. (Courtesy Gallaudet University)

"People in my community bashed me and labeled me as a quitter," Adham Talaat says. "Parents of my former teammates said that I was finished and that I was a waste and disappointment. Nobody talked to me or heard my side of the story. The entire time, I didn't give up hope. I kept believing, kept my head down, and kept working hard and stayed focused on my goal of making it to the NFL. I would go to the football games at my high school on Friday nights and sit in the stands incognito along the 50-yard line while thinking, 'It's not over yet. I'm going to make it.' During the fall and winter after I finished work I would drive to my high school and the janitors who remembered me would let me into the weight room so I could work out by myself, where I'd let out all frustration and emotion I had for those who doubted me."

That fall in 2009, Talaat received a Facebook message from a former high school teammate who was being recruited by Gallaudet. He said that the Gallaudet coach wanted Talaat's number.

"The next day I got a text from Coach Chuck [Goldstein] introducing himself and Gallaudet University to me," Talaat said. "The irony here is that I had lived my entire life, 30 minutes away from Gallaudet, but had never been to the campus. We set up a visit for that following Friday, in which I came to campus to take a tour of campus and the facilities, met the coaches and the team and watched practice. The following day I came back to watch the homecoming game, which they won, 37-0. Afterwards as I was leaving, I sat in my car and prayed hard over it. I had an overwhelming good feeling inside and knew that this is where I am supposed to come. I never had that feeling anywhere else at any other school."

Gallaudet actually had tried to recruit Talaat during his high school days but his high school coach wouldn't allow the Gallaudet coaches in to talk with Adham because the high school coach said that Adham was a Division I kid.

Talaat sparks a D that is ranked No. 12 in the nation in total defense. He's also thriving in the classroom with a 3.9 GPA and been honored as Academic All-District. He says he owes so much in his life football. It is a game that seemingly has meant almost everything to him.

"When I went through rocky situations when I was growing up, football was there for me," he said. "When my father was assigned to work out of the country, football was there for me. When I go through any frustrating times, football is there for me. It is like a trusted friend that I can lean on when the going gets tough.

"I cannot imagine what I would be like if I had never played."

His efforts have been a revelation to the Gallaudet program. He's often played both ways, and in the final game of the 2012 season, he played 122 snaps, doubling up at offensive guard and as a 5-technique on the D-line.

In a few months, Talaat hopes he can do enough to intrigue NFL teams to bring him into camp. Some will think him being hard of hearing will be a hurdle for Talaat to overcome. He doesn't see it that way.

"I don't think it is a hindrance at all," he said. "The college and NFL game is so reliant upon non-verbal communication, such as gestures, expressions, and hand or body signals. That happens to be my specialty due to my experiences at Gallaudet.

"In fact, I think being hard of hearing gives me an advantage. Crowd noise? I don't hear it; I have an added focus. Trash talk from fans or opposing players? Those people are wasting their time, haha."

There have been three NFL players who were deaf, Bonnie Sloan (played a season for the Cardinals in the 1970s), Kenny Walker (a Broncos D-lineman in the 90s) and current Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman, who plays with a hearing aid and was termed essentially deaf in this Seattle Times story.

For now, Talaat's more concerned with enjoying the best football season in school history, more than the upcoming grind of the NFL evaluation process.

"This season has been amazing," he said. "I knew we were good and could compete, but this success is so much better than I ever could've imagined. We only have 54 players, compared to the 80-plus, 100-plus, 150-plus players we see on the opposing sidelines. But we are 54 committed, hard-working, talented, and hungry football players. The expression 'quality over quantity' definitely applies to us. It's wonderful to make history for Gallaudet University and go down as the best team this school has ever seen. Even more so, because Gallaudet is the only university in the world exclusively for the deaf and hard of hearing, we represent all of them too. I am so proud to represent not only Gallaudet, but the Deaf community as a whole. For every person that has ever been told the words 'Deaf people can't do this, Deaf people can't do that,' we are a living example that yes, they can!"

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.
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