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What's your excuse?
If you ask this year's South Seattle College graduation speaker and professional football player Derrick Coleman, there are NO EXCUSES.
"No excuses was something I grew up with because my parents would not allow me to make excuses and get away with it," Coleman explained. "If I came home from school and could not tell my mother what the teacher taught, my reason had better not be because I could not hear. As my dad would say, I can make excuses but no one cares and they will not listen to excuses. So needless to say, no excuses has always been a part of my life."
As a member of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, Coleman's journey to the top has not been an easy one. In fact, many questioned if Coleman could play football at all, let alone at a professional level.
At the age of three, Coleman had a severe hearing loss in both ears. He was diagnosed with a genetic and incurable hearing impairment. For many people, this "impairment" would have been enough to darken any of their dreams, but Coleman isn't like most people. Instead, the doubters only added fuel to his fire.
"I saw how hard my parents worked to make sure I had what I needed to function in society without excuses, so I am motivated to take advantage of what they afforded me. I will give it my all to succeed," Coleman explained. "When people tell me I can't, it motivates me to try harder to prove to them 'Yes I can.'"
To overcome this challenge, he wears a hearing aid in each ear and has learned to read lips. Despite the fact that Coleman was teased and picked on in his younger years, his athletic ability was outstanding and being part of a team helped him feel accepted.
At Troy High School in Fullerton, California Coleman put his abilities on full display, excelling in football, basketball and track. During his high school football career, Coleman rushed for 5,216 yards with 86 touchdowns and broke numerous school records along the way. These numbers caught the attention of several college football coaches, including Pete Carroll who was the head coach at USC at the time.
Ultimately, Coleman selected UCLA to begin his college career. His decision boiled down to the opportunity that UCLA offered him.
"I wanted to play football my first year of college and they needed a running back," Coleman explained. "Both schools (UCLA and USC) are great so it would have been a win regardless."
As a Bruin, Coleman continued to flourish on the field, collecting 19 touchdowns with 1,780 rushing yards. After completing his collegiate career, Coleman was ready to take his game to the NFL and he had the numbers to prove it. With a six-foot 230 pound frame, Coleman ran the forty-yard dash in 4.4 seconds on his NFL Pro Day and impressed several NFL scouts.
But as the 2012 NFL Draft reached its final rounds and the last names were called, "Derrick Coleman" was never uttered. The silence threatened his dream of playing professional football, but Coleman kept working hard every day. In a spark of hope, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Minnesota Vikings, but was released only a few months later.
Enter the Seattle Seahawks.
In December of 2012, Coleman was re-united with Coach Pete Carroll who had originally tried recruiting him to USC as a high school athlete. Coleman, who signed with the Seahawks as a member of the practice squad, continued to impress the Seahawks' coaching staff and by opening day of the 2013 season, he earned a spot as the starting fullback.
"He's been a fantastic part of the team and it's been a really cool story. Not because he has issues, because he's made this team and he's made a spot for himself and he's claimed it. The fact that he has a hearing issue is really not even something that we deal with," Carroll explained to the Los Angeles Times.
Along the way, Coleman has become a global inspiration with his no excuses attitude. He shared his story as a spokesperson for Duracell's "Trust Your Power" advertising campaign. To date, this inspirational commercial has had over 22.5 million views on YouTube and continues to serve as a motivator for the masses.
Coleman has started his own foundation, appropriately titled the No Excuse Foundation.
"The Derrick L Coleman No Excuse Foundation would like to provide an opportunity for others with hearing impairments to live their life without excuses," he explained. "By helping to provide hearing aids to children, teenagers and adults they will be able to compete in life and not blame their lack of hearing for the reason they are not living their dream."
In life after football, Coleman hopes to put his political science degree from UCLA to good use by entering law school and eventually practicing corporate law.
Coleman can appreciate South's Class of 2014 accomplishments through his own climb to the top.
"I am proud of all my academic achievements because one prepared me for the next. Elementary prepared me for junior high; junior high prepared me for high school and so on," he said. "Every step prepares us for our next step. Stay humble through them all and celebrate every achievement."
Let's celebrate the Class of 2014 – no excuses.