PLATTSMOUTH – Austin Hicks has never let his hearing loss define his personality, character or career goals.
That positive attitude has helped him earn a spot on a collegiate football roster.
Hicks signed a letter of intent Monday afternoon to play football at Gallaudet University. The Bison finished fourth in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference last season and had eight players earn All-ECFC recognition. Hicks said he was excited about continuing his football career at a university that has earned national honors in both academic and athletic endeavors.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know that I’ll be able to play college football,” Hicks said. “When the coaches called me and said they were interested in having me come out there I was really excited. Not only is it a great place to play football but it’s a really great school too, so I’m very happy about this.”
Plattsmouth head football coach Bob Dzuris said he was pleased to see Hicks have an opportunity to play at the next level. Dzuris said Hicks made great strides in the weight room over the past year and elevated his overall football knowledge on the field. He also remained on a strong academic path at Plattsmouth.
“Having Austin go through the recruiting process at Gallaudet has given me a chance to learn more about the school, and I’ve been impressed with everything that I’ve found out,” Dzuris said. “The educational opportunities for him are going to be just phenomenal. It’s in the middle of Washington, D.C., and has everything you could ask for in terms of classes.
“He’s going to get to play football too, which makes it even better since Austin really likes the game. I’m really excited and happy for him. It’s very special to see him get this type of opportunity.”
Congress first authorized the school to confer college degrees for the deaf and hard of hearing in 1864. President Ulysses S. Grant signed diplomas for Gallaudet’s first three graduates in June 1869. The tradition of having diplomas signed by the sitting U.S. president has continued to this day.
Gallaudet students can choose from more than 40 majors in a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. The school has become known as a primary resource of knowledge for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Gallaudet offers educational and career opportunities, classes on deaf history and culture, American Sign Language studies and a place for technological advancements for deaf people.
The school’s football program has also made an impact on American culture. Gallaudet players invented the huddle in 1892 during a game against another deaf team. Gallaudet quarterback Paul Hubbard didn’t want opponents to see him using sign language to signal plays to his teammates, so he came up with the idea of forming a tight circle before each snap.
Athletes in other sports soon heard about Gallaudet’s idea and began using the concept in their own games. Huddles are now commonplace in basketball, soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball as well as football.
Hicks has been part of Plattsmouth huddles in both football and baseball while having hearing loss in both ears. His hearing level is at about 15 percent and has affected the way he learns both in the classroom and the playing field.
Hicks is able to use a hearing aid that captures words of a teacher in each PHS class. A Bluetooth system amplifies the words and allows Hicks to follow along with each lesson.
He has maintained a grade point average above 3.0 throughout his Plattsmouth career and has earned multiple spots on academic honor rolls. He has also been part of several award-winning Destination Imagination academic teams and is in the PHS Junior ROTC program.
Hicks has used the same type of resourcefulness to play sports for the Blue Devils. He keeps his eyes trained on the lips of coaches and teammates to interpret messages and receive instruction and encouragement. He has also paid additional attention to visual elements such as signs from baseball catchers and hand signals from football coaches.
“My coaches and teammates here at Plattsmouth have been great,” Hicks said. “They’ve been willing to help out in a lot of ways. It’s been awesome to have this type of support here.”
Hicks is planning to major in physical education and health with an emphasis in biology at Gallaudet. He also has a goal of obtaining a minor in coaching.
Hicks was able to put on a Gallaudet football uniform for the first time during a visit to Washington, D.C., in late January. He said that trip verified to him that he had made the correct decision by approaching everything in life with a positive attitude.
“It’s a beautiful campus and since it has students that have hearing loss, the class sizes are really small, which I was happy about,” Hicks said. “They average about 12 people in each class, so it’s going to be a great place to go.
“I was really impressed with everything the school offered when I flew out for the visit. It’s right in the heart of D.C., so it’s going to help a lot when I start looking for jobs after college. I’m really excited about having an opportunity to go there.”