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Firecat hopeful tackles deafness

January 25, 2009

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Munir Muwwakkil has the body of a prototypical defensive tackle.

He is 6-foot-2, weighs 305 pounds and is extremely quick off the snap, thanks in part to being able to squat 610 pounds, double his weight.

Muwwakkil used that quickness and strength Saturday at the open tryout held by the arenafootball2’s Florida Firecats at Estero High School.

It seemed like football was pretty easy to the 22-year-old, judging by the number of times he barreled through or darted around offensive linemen Saturday.

However, things in life have not always been as easy for Muwwakkil.

That’s because the former Western Kentucky University and Edward Waters College nose tackle is deaf. Muwwakkil cannot hear the play call from the sideline, he must rely on signals. He cannot hear the snap count, he relies on watching the ball being snapped.

But Muwwakkil does not let his impairment stop him from doing what he loves.
“I know (being deaf) is something that can be a negative,” Muwwakkil said through interpreter Lori Timson of the Deaf Services Center of Southwest Florida. “Lots of people have helped me. I am very perceptive. As long as I watch what is going on I am fine.”

Timson translated instructions from coaches and other players for Muwwakkil on Saturday. She is the executive director of the Deaf Services Center of Southwest Florida, which provides interpreting services, advocacy and family services, among other things.

Muwwakkil was not born deaf.

Before his first birthday, he contracted a deadly form of pneumonia. Doctors gave him little chance of surviving unless he took an experimental drug that would cause him to permanently lose his hearing.

The drug worked. Muwwakkil lived, but became deaf.

Muwwakkil started his athletic career as a basketball player while attending Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf from 1995-2000. When his family moved to football-crazy Florida, Muwwakkil decided to give the sport a chance.

“My dad encouraged me to change to football,” Muwwakkil said. “Coach suggested I play nose tackle and I became pretty skilled at it.”

Munir Muwwakkil used his size and strength while at Pinellas Park High School in Largo to earn scholarship offers from colleges across the country. However, Muwwakkil had to take the ACT through sign language and it was not accepted. He wound up playing two years at Pasadena (Calif.) City College, a junior college.

From there, Muwwakkil transferred to Western Kentucky in Bowling Green for his junior season and finished his college football career at Edward Waters in Jacksonville.

Firecats coach Kevin Bouis told the players after the tryout that were “quite a few spots” open on the team’s roster.

“I was definitely impressed with his tryout,” Bouis said of Muwwakkil. “He’s quick off the ball and has great technique. You can tell he was well coached.”

Bouis is hoping to see Muwwakkil in pads when training camp begins Feb. 28. That would mean either signing him to a contract or a waiver that allows for a short evaluation period.

“I communicated with him several times and he had no problem at all,” Bouis said. “I would not foresee communication being a problem for us.”

Muwwakkil has a few other tryouts, including the Jacksonville Jaguars’ pro day, scheduled, his father said.

“He would like to stay local and play football,” said Jihad Muwwakkil, who lives in Palm Harbor.

When asked why he loves football so much, Munir Muwwakkil signed a name: that of former University of Miami and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

“I want to continue playing football and I would like to do it in this area,” said Muwwakkil. “Lots of people have helped me and I am thankful for that.”

“He is very talented and he really wants to play ball,” Jihad Muwwakkil said. “It’s a shame if he doesn’t get the chance to.”

Additional Facts
Age: 22

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 305 pounds

Bench press: 420 pounds

Squat: 610 pounds