October 7, 2003

Van Zant just one of the guys

Tyler (Texas) Lee safety Martel Van Zant is planning on continuing his college playing career in the Big 12 Conference. His biggest adjustment may be finding a coach like the one he's had his entire prep career and continuing to prove to others that deep down he's a football player - just like the rest of the guys on the field.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Van Zant has verbally committed to play for Les Miles' Oklahoma State Cowboy program a few weeks back and it's something that people in Tyler are very excited about. It's not just a big deal because of the commitment but because Van Zant is hearing impaired.

"That's what he tells me," Lee coach Mike Owens said about the star's pledge to Oklahoma State.

"I've heard he was committed to Texas A&M, too, but I have point blank asked him where he was going and he has told me he is going to Oklahoma State. Actually, he signed it to me."

Owens doesn't even recognize his standout player's handicap anymore, because he's been with him so long.

"Martel has been a great player for us for so long," Owens said.

"I don't even think about him being deaf anymore. He signs everything and we have to talk to him in sign language or he doesn't get it. I don't do it. We have an interpreter for him. She's like one of the coaches. She relays everything I say. She knows what he's supposed to be doing. She is Martel's own coach."

The rest of the Tyler Lee squad has grown to love their teammate.

"Martel's teammates love him," Owens said. "He's a great kid. He's smart. He's got a good football head on his shoulder. He's a great athlete and a great all-around player on our defense. He's got good size for a defensive back. And he'll just get bigger and stronger as he matures more. Then to top it all off, he runs like a deer."

Owens feels his safety is less distracted by the goings on around him.

"Martel is better focused than most of our players because he's deaf," he said. "He doesn't have some of the distractions others have because of what is heard by others. He is always focused on the task at hand."

Van Zant has helped lead his team to a 4-1 record on the season. He has recorded just 11 tackles in the five games, broken up three passes and recorded one interception.

"We moved him to cornerback this year," he said. "That makes him not have as many tackles as last year when he was a safety."

Van Zant accepted the scholarship offer from Oklahoma State over interest from Texas A&M and Arizona among others.

"He visited Oklahoma State officially last month," Owens said. "He committed while he was there on the visit and came back very excited about everything."

In the end, the biggest thing about Martel Van Zant isn't that he's hearing impaired - it's that he's a football player and a darned good one.



 

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