Southside's Collett overcomes obstacles, takes on football
Tue. September 06, 2011 at 9:59 p.m. | By Nick Johnston Sports Writer
SOUTHSIDE — Attending a high school football game can be a festival for the senses.
Think about it. When you walk in the stadium on a Friday night, what do you see? There are bright lights, players on the field and a multitude of colors. What do you smell? Hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill at the concession stand, right? As for taste, eventually the smell leads to experiencing that sense.
Now, think about what you hear. The band playing the national anthem, or maybe someone screaming into a microphone, “Are you ready for some football?” just before kickoff. Then there are the noises that come from shoulder pads and helmets popping, coaches screaming and referees blowing their whistles.
Now imagine what a Friday night high school football game would be like without those sounds.
Imagine what it would be like if you didn’t hear any sounds — ever.
Taylor Collett knows that feeling all too well. Collett, a junior wide receiver for the Southside Panthers, is deaf. He doesn’t hear anything, much less the mesmerizing sounds of a football game.
It certainly doesn’t hold him back, though, and he’s proven he’s more than willing to step out of his comfort zone. He’s never played football until just a few weeks ago, but the impact he has had on his team is immeasurable.
“He’s touched more people at Southside than anybody I know, just him being here a month,” best friend and teammate Wesley Butler said.
“And he’s just being himself,” Taylor’s dad, Paul Collett, added. “He just wants to be like everyone else.”
Being treated differently is the last thing Taylor wants. But at 17 years old, the things he has overcome truly are astounding.
He spent most of the first seven years or so of his life at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. He was born deaf and doctors also discovered a cyst on his brain.
“As a dad, not ever dealing with anything like this and being so young, I was devastated when I found out,” Paul said. “But it has been a blessing.
“When I first found out, I prayed to God many times to take my hearing and give it to my son,” he added as his eyes began to tear up. “Now I wouldn’t do that for anything, because it’s made him who he is today, which is a very special kid that we all love and cherish.”
Taylor underwent a surgery to have a cochlear implant put in, but it didn’t work, and he started learning to sign around age 5. He attended John S. Jones Elementary School with the help of an interpreter and moved on to Rainbow Middle for sixth grade. But Taylor lost his interpreter that year and had to transfer to Alabama School for the Deaf in Talladega. Every day since, he rode a bus past Southside High School to attend another school about 40 miles away.
“I wasn’t angry,” Taylor said through his current interpreter, Jennifer Hudson. “I was just really tired of the drive. That was the frustrating part.”
So with the help of Hudson, Taylor was able to transfer to Southside at the beginning of this school year. And, with clearance from doctors and his dad finally willing to say yes, Taylor was able to do something he always had wanted to do — play football.
His coach, Marty Smith, is excited for what Taylor has brought to the team thus far and for what his future holds.
“One of things that really impressed me about him is so many young people in today’s society have a hard time stepping out of their comfort zone,“ said Smith, who has Taylor in his history class. “And here you’ve got a young man who is not only changing schools and going into a classroom with hearing people, but yet he’s willing to face the challenges and willing to take on the struggles and also get to enjoy the successes by the way he goes about his everyday life.”
Smith is in his first year of coaching at Southside, and Taylor’s attitude toward helping build the program is just what he is looking for. Though Taylor never has played football, he won a state championship as part of a relay team last year with Alabama School for the Deaf. So he has speed, or as the modest Taylor put it, “Yeah, a little bit.”
His discipline comes from Jiu Jitsu, in which he is a two-time national champion in his age group. He’s also won a state championship and has been training in Mixed Martial Arts.
As for football, all Taylor has been able to do to this point is practice. He still is awaiting clearance from the state, which should come in this week. That means he could be suited up for Friday night’s game at Scottsboro.
“I was kind of stressed the first practice, but I feel like I will know what to do when the game starts,” Taylor said. “I’ll be confident.”
When he will have a chance to contribute on a Friday night depends on how quickly he gets acclimated to the game.
“He understands that it’s a tough road,“ Smith said. “He understands that we all got to figure out a way to continue to bridge the gap of the lack of previous playing experience to where we are now. He is a young man that absorbs everything we’re trying to do and everything that would enhance his opportunity to play. You can see each day he is getting better.”
You don’t have know sign language to understand how Taylor feels about Smith. When asked, Taylor used his hands to draw a large heart across his chest.