Derrick Coleman is living his dream as a Super Bowl-winning fullback for the Seattle Seahawks, but few would have expected the 24-year-old to end up there.
Coleman, deaf since childhood, is only the third hearing-impaired player ever to reach the National Football League and the league’s first legally deaf offensive player.
“It wasn’t so much the NFL, it was more proving everybody wrong,” Coleman told ABC News’ Deborah Roberts of why he chose such a groundbreaking career.
Coleman said that as a kid he never “truly realized” that he was different, but admitted he was bullied as a kid.
Derrick Coleman walks the red carpet at the 2014 Starkey Hearing Foundation So The World May Hear Gala on July 20, 2014 in St. Paul, Minn.
“There’s a reason why I don’t like going back there,” Coleman said, explaining why he doesn’t dwell on that time in his life. “I don’t really like remembering that. I block it out. I know it because it still makes me angry to this day.”
Outside of the bullying, Coleman’s childhood was mostly a happy one thanks to strong and determined parents who refused to let their son be victimized or make excuses.
“I remember one incident when him and his sister were getting ready to walk home,” recalled Coleman’s mother, May Hamlin. “Some, I think it was like five, girls came and they attacked him, and he was trying to defend himself and ended up losing his hearing aids.
“I went and knocked on some doors that day and to make sure that the bullying kind of stopped now,” Hamlin said. “It had been taken to a whole new level that I was not comfortable with.”
Coleman, deaf since the age of 3 because of a genetic and incurable hearing impairment, recalled his mother also telling him to be tough.
“At the same time, she looked at me in the eye and was like, ‘Don’t you let people do that to you. Why are you going to let somebody else mess up how you feel about yourself?,’” Coleman said.
He learned to read lips and blossomed as a student and a standout athlete. He won a football scholarship to the University of California Los Angeles and began dreaming of playing in the NFL.
Coleman was not drafted by an NFL team but was soon spotted by Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll, who thought the talented running back was perfect for his team.
“He has taken it head on,” Carroll told ABC News. “He has done nothing but to bring it to light that you can do whatever you want to do, and he’s been a marvelous example.”
At this point in his life, Coleman said, he does not even think about what his life would have been like as a hearing person.
“Once upon a time I did, maybe in elementary school,” Coleman said. “But now, no. I love it.”
“It’s such an advantage,” he said. “If somebody is making fun of me, I realized this in elementary school actually … one of my friends was just yapping at me, making fun of me, and I just turned my hearing aids off.
“It was the first time I ever did and I was like, ‘Whoa, this is amazing,’” Coleman said. “And it actually made him even more mad.”
Coleman became a viral star thanks to a Duracell commercial that got 22 million views and showed his unlikely path from legally deaf child to the NFL.
“Everybody in the world’s got problems, you know, and they saw somebody that had problems similar to them, maybe worse than them, [who] did whatever he possibly could to still get his dream,” Coleman said of the commercial’s popularity.
Now, Coleman is out with a new book, titled “No Excuses,” that he hopes will continue to provide inspiration, especially to kids.
“I want them to know that, one, you’re not alone, and, two, if you just stick together, hand by hand, we can do anything,” he said.