SIGNS ON THE FIELD: Deaf QB makes noise at Petersburg

Published: Nov. 14, 2017 at 12:54 AM EST
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Petersburg football did not make the playoffs this year, but the Vikings are already looking ahead to 2018. That's when Jacob Hartman will likely contribute for the third straight year as a starting quarterback.

He's really good at reading lips. But that's a talent born out of necessity.

While Friday nights at Petersburg high school are distinct with the sounds of cheering crowds and marching bands, Jacob Hartman can't hear any of it.

All he hears is pure silence.

Jacob Hartman contracted spinal meningitis as an infant. The disease took away his sense of hearing.

"in the years ahead, when he was like one and two, the communication got pretty rough," Jacob's mom, Shannon Hartman, said. "He wanted things and I didn't know what he wanted. There were times when we were all upset and crying because I have no idea what he wants."

What Shannon Hartman wanted was for her son to go to public school. She made the decision for Jacob to transfer from the School for the Deaf when he was seven.

"I didn't want him to live in what I call 'a silent world'," Shannon Hartman said.

Jacob's first day at a public school felt like getting lost in a foreign country.

"I was nervous because it was hard to talk to people," Jacob Hartman said. "I was pretty sad because it was very different from a deaf school. They don't know how to sign."

None of his peers knew sign language. It took months for his classmates to learn how to talk to him and a year for Jacob to be comfortable being in a public school.

The football field became the place where being deaf didn't matter.

"I don't feel like I'm deaf," Jacob Hartman said.

Shannon said that Jacob's talent just came naturally.

"I don't know how else to put it," Shannon Hartman said.

Jacob's coach, Kevin Board, saw the talent he has as a quarterback almost instantly.

"He has a strong arm no question. He had the ability to run very well. He moves very well," Board said. "When we did competitions, he was always trying to win. It's just that competitive nature and what you really look for in all players, especially your quarterback."

Jacob became the starting quarterback for Petersburg in his sophomore year. He admits he was nervous starting in his first varsity game. But it only took until his second game as a starter to earn his first win.

"The biggest thing was our first year, you come in with a playbook and the frame of mind of how you want to call things and what you're going to name things," Board said. "And then you have to change those because, this is your future."

Jacob led the Vikings to six wins in 2016, marking back-to-back winning seasons under coach Board.

Fans never noticed that Jacob Hartman was deaf, accomplishing Shannon Hartman's goal.

"When we first started talking about bringing him to public school was I want him to look and be as normal as anyone else out there. I want him to fit in," Shannon Hartman said.

Instead, Jacob stood out. Not for his inability to hear but for his ability to throw the football.

He broke school records in his sophomore year, throwing for over 2500 yards and 26 touchdowns.

"Breaking records. My goal is accomplished," Jacob Hartman said. "It's an accomplishment."

With Jacob's senior season ahead of him, the Vikings quarterback has his sights set on his next goal.

"Right now, he wants to go to JMU, to play football. That's his goal," Shannon Hartman said. "That's the only place he talks about right now."

The Dukes are in the midst of a 22-game winning streak and on the cusp of winning the CAA championship outright with a win Saturday at Elon.

"It's a Division I school. I want to play at a Division I school," Jacob Hartman said. "That's why I want to play there."

Coach Board is inspired by Jacob's journey and wants to do everything in his power to make his college football dreams come true.

"He has to feel everything. He doesn't hear that edge rusher coming. He doesn't hear it. He has to feel everything in the pocket. And when he can feel it collapsing, he steps up or scrambles and makes a play," Board said. "It's just incredible to watch and people tell us that all the time, you guys have more highlight plays in a game than a lot of teams will have in a season."

For Shannon Hartman, she's just proud of how far her son has come and the goals that he's set for himself.

"I hope he accomplishes it."