Deaf Player

Deaf soccer player Craig Verdin. (Credit: Taylor Balkom)
Deaf soccer player Craig Verdin. (Credit: Taylor Balkom)

By Mark Clements | LSU Student

It was a routine soccer play.

The ball swung into the box on a cross, and Craig Verdin's goalkeeping instincts sent him out to get it.

He yelled a warning to his defenders as he jumped to snag the ball, but the shouts fell on deaf ears – literally.

Verdin collided with a defender and quickly began to realize the struggles that come with playing for the United States National Soccer Team for the Deaf.

"You need that ability to communicate to your defense," Verdin said. "Normally, with my hearing players, I would have called for the ball. That ability, that luxury was taken away."

Verdin, a junior kinesiology major at LSU, has struggled with a hearing impairment since birth. This hasn't deterred him from competing at some of soccer's most superior stages.

Despite his hearing level of 70 decibels, the 21-year-old Houma native has been playing soccer since he was six years old and currently suits up for the Chicago Fire Juniors in New Orleans.

With a minimum level of 50 decibels required to qualify for the USA Deaf Soccer team – the higher the decibel level, the less one can hear – Verdin tried his luck on the national level for the first time last weekend in Columbus, Ohio.

"When I arrived, it was very uncomfortable," said Verdin, who was training with a deaf team for the first time in his career. "I've never consciously met a deaf person, and when I arrived I was surrounded by them. It was unusual."

Verdin said that of the 25 people at the tryout, "maybe five" were able to communicate through some sort of hearing device, while the rest spoke through sign language, which is foreign to him.

The team eventually found ways to communicate, he said.

"I've never been around deaf people so it gave me an experience to embrace my disability," Verdin said. "I never embraced it, I have always been ashamed of it, I suppose. But I was around people who are like me, and it brings out the pride."

Saul Martinez, Verdin's goalkeeper trainer, said he found out by accident that his protégé had a hearing disability and would have never known had someone not mentioned it.

"It never was a problem," Martinez said. "He didn't let that bother him at all. He is like the coach. As far as communication, [there's] no problem."

Martinez called goalkeeping the hardest position on the pitch to play, but said Verdin possesses the intangibles needed to become one of the greats.

"There are three key words to goalkeeping – communication, concentration and courage, and he had them," said Martinez, who has coached Verdin for nearly eight years. "It takes a lot of discipline and mental toughness. [Craig] is willing to put his body on the line and he has the mental toughness."

The USA Deaf Soccer Team will travel to Turkey for the World Deaf Football Championships this summer, but Verdin's name won't appear on the roster.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound keeper asked the coach not to consider him for a final roster spot so he can work an internship this summer in Utah in preparation for medical school applications down the road.

"Part of me really wants to [pursue soccer] and it's great to have that balance," said Verdin, who added that he was confident he would get another call up in the future and would not preclude accepting. "But I'm trying to get into medical school so that's my priority."