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Bills' Deandre Coleman hasn't allowed hearing loss to silence dreams

Sitting in front of his cubicle in the Buffalo Bills' dressing room, Deandre Coleman recalls with regret how he allowed teenage vanity to get in the way of what should have been an obvious choice.

He had the technology to cope with the hearing loss that afflicted him since fifth grade. But after inserting both of his hearing aids at home, just to appease his mother, Coleman would promptly remove them before setting foot inside Garfield High School in Seattle.

He might have been bigger and stronger than most everyone else in the entire building, but he was worried about what the other kids would think or say about him. He had no desire to draw attention to himself. Most of all, he dreaded the idea of someone asking why those clumsy looking plastic things were in and around his ears.

"I was just thinking it," the 6-foot-5, 341-pound Coleman said. "Nobody ever said nothing. It was more in my head. It was more me and my own insecurities and stuff."

Now, at 26, he wears his hearing aids all the time. He has worn them religiously since college and during the four seasons he has been a defensive tackle in the NFL. That includes on the field.

Coleman has come to realize something that wasn't easy for him to grasp as a teenager.

"Nobody really cares," he said of how others react to his wearing hearing aids. "If they do, something's wrong with them."

Neither Coleman nor his mother — who raised him and his sister and brother in a single-parent home — suspected there was anything wrong with Deandre when she brought him in for a routine medical examination when he was about 10 years old.

The doctor first concluded he had a speech problem. But more testing revealed that he had hearing loss, although not extensive.

Neither of his siblings had a hearing problem. His mother claimed she did, but Coleman is convinced it was only a mom's way of trying to make her son feel less self-conscious. He isn't sure about whether his late father had any hearing issues, having only spoken to him "a couple of times" and never meeting his family.

By the time Coleman was in high school, he was seeing an audiologist, who prescribed the hearing aids that he would only wear when he was around his mother.

"I was able to listen and engage in conversation without missing anything," he said. "The way my hearing loss is set up, it's like inside voices and monotone, it's hard for me to hear that. And that's probably the only part that gets worse as I'm getting older, trying to hear people speak (at) regular (volume)."

That was what his girlfriend noticed during Coleman's senior year at the University of California.

"If I didn't hear her, I'd just go, 'Oh, whatever,' and act like I did hear her," he said. "Then, I started getting more feedback and I just started noticing I'm not hearing as good as I used to. Then I just tried to make myself more comfortable wearing (hearing aids).

"I noticed how they did change my life."

Getting to know: Bills defensive tackle Deandre Coleman

The Bills are Coleman's third NFL employer since the Jacksonville Jaguars signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He also spent time with the Miami Dolphins.

As with the Jaguars and Dolphins, the Bills purchased Coleman hearing aids that are both conducive to his profession, because they're tiny buds that do better under a helmet than the larger kind he had as a kid, and barely detectable. Coleman occasionally has problems when sweat builds up and gets inside the hearing aids, prompting the need to frequently replace a tube in the center of each one.

He still has the bigger model, because that version works better for everyday living, especially in a noisy environment where he tends to have his greatest challenges listening during a conversation.

"It's no fun missing out on stuff," Coleman said. "I don't want to go to the bank and I'm not able to hear the teller. I won't want to (have to say), 'Can you repeat that?' "

Coleman said his hearing loss has never presented a problem for him as a player. The meeting room is generally quiet, so he doesn't struggle picking up what coach Sean McDermott or defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier or defensive line coach Mike Waufle have to say.

Although noise is considerable during a game, Coleman can't remember a time when the inability to hear something has negatively impacted him.

"Since I started wearing (hearing aids), I can hear more on the field," he said. "Really, I just need to know the play and the adjustments that come with the play. It might be hard for me to hear what the other team is saying, to pick up (something that he could use to his advantage).

"But if there's an adjustment, if we got a game or a stunt or something, we communicate. Most of the time, it's one word and they're repeating it over and over again. I make sure I get it. And if I don't get it, I'll ask."

Deandre Coleman has quietly helped Bills' run defense get back on track

The Bills, who had him on their practice squad and activated him for the final five games of the 2016 season, trusted Coleman's skills and hearing enough to re-sign him on Nov. 14 after releasing him on Sept. 26 (he had also been cut on Sept. 5 before being re-signed on Sept. 20).

He played a career-high 40 percent of the snaps during the Nov. 19 loss against the Los Angeles Chargers. Coleman also saw action a week later against the Kansas City Chiefs, and was part of a solid defensive effort that stuffed the run and helped the Bills to a 16-10 victory. He was credited with two tackles in last Sunday's 23-3 loss against the New England Patriots.

Coleman wants the fact he is a professional athlete to help him spread the word to young people with hearing loss that they shouldn't be ashamed of it or of needing to wear hearing aids.

"That's one thing I do want to get into, is helping kids with hearing loss because I know how it is," he said. "I'd like to start something to help encourage (them), let them know like, 'You're normal, it's just you need help hearing.' It isn't stopping them from anything. You can do anything you want.

"At the end of the day, it's going to help you."

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