By Cory Hancock
KENNESAW, Ga. -- As Terrence Chisley’s name blared over the stadium’s loudspeakers, and fans and cheerleaders yelled for him, he didn’t hear it quite the same way.
Chisley was born deaf.
But that hasn’t deterred the starting defensive back and running back for Kennesaw Mountain from pursuing one of his greatest passions. He was the first of 26 seniors recognized during the Mustang’s senior night.
As he walked across midfield to be recognized, with members of Kennesaw Mountain’s Navy JROTC program flanking Chisley and his family, he showed no emotion, locked in and focussed on his final home game with the Mustangs.
“You can smile, Terrence,” Mustangs head coach Caleb Carmean said with a chuckle.
He stayed straight-faced and ready to play.
Chisley has come a long way to reach this moment. He began his football career at 5 years old, and in high school, he began by playing on the freshman team. He quickly moved to the varsity squad his sophomore year, starting for the first time at free safety against cross-town rival North Cobb High School in the final game of the season. He’s continued pursuing football because he absolutely loves it.
“I have a passion for the game,” Chisley said. “It’s what I’m good at. Everybody has said to me, ‘You need to keep going, keep going, don’t give up.’ I just can’t give up.”
According to the Gallaudet Research Institute, approximately 1.1 million people in the U.S. are deaf, and five prominent NFL players have accomplished storied careers while playing deaf: Bonnie Sloan, Larry Brown, Kenny Walker, Flozell Adams, and most recently, Derrick Coleman.
Carmean said Chisley fully embodies the “1-0” mentality the Mustangs uphold week-in and week out.
“He works hard,” Carmean said. “We all have adversity we handle. Some of our adversity is harder than others, but that’s something that Terrence has handled and does a great job excelling.”
Chisley said his experience playing for Kennesaw Mountain has been “life-changing,” and he gives a lot of the credit for that to his coaches. He said they’ve helped him learn what he needs to do to succeed in life outside of football.
“They teach me about life. They take me out and show me how it’s like in the real world,” Chisley said. “They’re not only preparing me for football but real life.”
Part of the off-the-field life preparation for Chisley occurs in the classroom where he excels. He has numerous academic scholarships, and he hopes that will launch him to a position of being able to walk onto the football team at whichever college he chooses, should he not be offered a spot to play football. The NCAA estimated that there were more than 1,000 walk-on players at the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in 2015.
“I would love to play anywhere,” Chisley said as his eyes lit up thinking about the schools he’d love to play for one day.
“The number one school that I would love to play for, I would have to say Florida, or LSU because I’m from Louisiana,” he said with a wide smile on his face.
He hasn’t allowed his hearing impairment to deter him from setting impressive goals and achieving them. While he’s proficient at reading lips and utilizes a hearing aid to improve his hearing a bit, he also relies on Abbey Jackson, one of Kennesaw Mountain’s educational interpreters who helps Chisley on the field. She met Chisley when he was a freshman and has continued working with him in tandem with another interpreter, Tito Gonzalez, since.
“Before this year, I had never interpreted a game, and I was here for their first home game,” Jackson said.
Jackson is at every practice from beginning to end and pregame dinners. She’s also interpreted at a handful of the games.
She said she was intimidated at first because she thought she may be the only one giving Chisley signals for plays, but she said she serves more in a backup capacity, ready to tell him to move to a certain spot on the field or to keep an eye out for something specific.
“The coaches will say, ‘Tell Terrence to move over to the right,’ or ‘Tell him to watch the ball…’ That’s the kind of information where he’s really at an advantage over the hearing players,” Jackson said. “Sometimes [the coaches] are yelling stuff on the sidelines, and the kids are either not hearing them or choosing not to listen to them, and Terrence really doesn’t have that excuse.”
As the season draws to a close, the 4-5 Mustangs still had a chance at making the playoffs before losing to North Paulding High School on Friday night 41 to 21. Chisley said that making the playoffs has been his biggest goal since he got to Kennesaw Mountain.
“It’s big. It’s like, I can’t describe it. Kennesaw has never been to the playoffs,” he said. “If we make it during my last season, with this group, it’s a feeling that you can’t really describe.”
While that feeling won’t be fully realized this season, it’s hard to imagine that Chisley and his other senior teammates don't want to go out on a high note, with the opportunity to knock off the region’s second place Marietta Blue Devils on Friday in their final game of the season.
Chisley left the field Friday night in a similar fashion to how he entered it — flanked by his teammates, fans and supporters. Again, he was the first to walk off the field, wearing jersey number one. The cold mist falling from the sky seemed indicative of Chisley’s situation and the future — somewhat comforting and peaceful, yet uncertain and difficult to see through with all that’s up in the air.
One thing is certain though, he will continue to pursue his dreams wholeheartedly and achieve them, regardless of if he can hear the cheers or not.