Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mountain View running back Ty McRae who was born deaf is able to compete in high school football with help from his interpreter Erin Ratigan. McRae and Ratigan takes part in practice in Lawrenceville Wednesday.
Mountain View assistant football coach Matt Pelot stands in the middle of the practice field and calls out a play.
"Split right 12," he says.
Bears running back Ty McRae looks to his right and nods as he gets the play and lines up behind the quarterback.
"Ready, set, hike," says Mountain View quarterback Chris Bartlett in his raspy voice.
McRae fires out of his three-point stance, gets the ball on the handoff and runs about 10 yards.
It's a simple warm-up drill for Mountain View and just about any another other football team that goes off without a hitch. It's a seamless transition from coach to player. But what makes this play so interesting is that McRae is deaf.
He's never heard the words of his coach telling how to take a handoff or the sounds of the crowd cheering on Friday nights.
"I'll never forget, when he stepped on campus and we found out he was interested in football and we found out he was deaf, Coach (Tim) Hardy and I had never coached a hearing impaired player," Mountain View head coach Doug Giacone said. "We said OK. We'll jump in and see what happens and how we can best serve him and our program. He's come into it and done everything we've asked him to do."
McRae attended Berkmar his first two years of high school, which serves as host school for the hearing impaired in Gwinnett County. It was an hour bus ride to school every day, so once he got his driver's license, he transferred to his cluster school of Mountain View.
"Last year was my first year here and I was still kind of learning how to get along with the football players and be their friends," McRae said through his interpreter Erin Ratigan. "This year, I get along with the football players a lot more and I'm playing a lot more snaps. When we play games, I play a lot more, so I feel better about this year."
As the 'B' back in Mountain View's triple option offense, McRae lines up in a three-point stance behind the quarterback. That allows him to see the ball as it's snapped.
"He just has to react faster than everyone else," Pelot said.
During games, he looks to the sideline from the huddle to get the play call just like the quarterback does.
"All I do is watch the ball and when the ball moves, I move," McRae said. "The coaches signal in for the quarterback and I watch the signals too so I know the play."
The team has had to make very few adjustments to accommodate McRae. The only noticeable difference from McRae and the other players is Ratigan by his side to interpret what the coaches say to him.
"I don't think of him as being deaf. Erin, his interpreter, is a pseudo member of the coaching staff," Giacone said. "She knows what he's supposed to do, so there's times she can see he messed up and before Coach Pelot can say something she's already told him."
Giacone calls McRae and Ratigan the "dynamic duo." They spend about 12 hours a day together. She's there with him through all of his classes, team meetings, film sessions, practices and games.
"She works really hard. She puts in a lot of time and a lot of hours and she really cares about Ty," Giacone said. "I marvel at her and her commitment to him in helping him get the most out of his high school experience."
The one area of McRae's high school life that Ratigan is not involved in is his social life. When it comes to finding out about the latest gossip around the school, she stays out of it.
"Really, as an interpreter your job is not to be friends with the kids you work with," Ratigan said. "It's just a bonus we get along, that we can joke around and stuff like that."
If you observed McRae in the hallways at school or the practice field at Mountain View, you wouldn't know he was deaf. He interacts with players just like everyone else. He'll read their lips, smile and joke around.
"Really, if you didn't know he was deaf, it wouldn't be the most obvious thing," Ratigan said. "Everybody talks to him. They read his lips and vice versa. Everybody loves him. He walks down the hall talking to people. He's just a normal kid, who just happens to be deaf."
The 6-foot, 190 pound McRae has 28 carries for 64 yards and his goal is to score a touchdown this year.
"Physically, he's as good as anyone we've got," Pelot said. "He just works hard. He's a workhorse."
McRae has received interest to play college football at Gallaudet University, a deaf college in Washington, D.C., that plays a 10-game NCAA schedule.
"He's your prototypical high school player," Giacone said. "He has good size, good speed. He has good vision running the ball and he's very tough. He isn't as limited as people might think because of his condition."
McRae has developed as a player so much over the last two years, that Giacone and his staff have been forced to find ways to get him on the field as much as they can. They've developed special offensive packages just for him. The goal to score a touchdown may happen sooner than he thinks.
"I would be happy and then I would try and do it again," McRae said.
If McRae did score, it would send off a loud roar from the Mountain View student section that he would never hear, but they would give him his own special applause.
"When I do something, they shake their hands or do something like that instead of clapping for me," he said.
THE MCRAE FILE
Who: Ty McRae
School: Mountain View
Dream job: Engineer
Favorite sports team: Utah State University
Favorite TV show: "The Walking Dead"
Was born deaf
Maintains 2.8 GPA
Has 28 carries for 64 yards and two catches for 19 yards this season
Went to Berkmar freshman and sophomore years