The Bloomfield Hills players were gathered around coach Dan Loria, and every set of eyes were fixed on their football coach.
Well, except the one belonging to senior Devin Holmes. Instead looking at Loria, Holmes’ eyes were trained on Al Kettinger.
Kettinger attends every practice, but he is not a coach. He is a sign language interpreter and the person who makes it possible for Holmes to communicate with Loria, the other coaches and his teammates.
Holmes has been profoundly deaf since birth. He lives in Southfield and has attended Bloomfield Hills schools because it is a magnate district for Oakland County’s deaf students.
This is his third year on varsity and his second as a starter on the defensive line. At 6-feet, 285 pounds, he is a dominant force on the line, often forcing opponents to double-team him, which is likely to happen Friday when the Black Hawks host Oxford at 7 p.m.
“It started with his size,” Loria said. “We don’t have size like that so we brought him up as a sophomore. He played some and then started last year.”
Holmes is one of the team’s captains, something he never envisioned. After all, he can’t really talk to his teammates.
“My belief is you’re not going to be a captain because you do everything right,” Loria said. “There are a lot of kids who do that. I need something more. The kids rally around him. He influences them in a way I’ve never seen before. They want him to succeed.”
Holmes has found a way to get through to his teammates without actually being able to hold a conversation with them on the field or on the sideline.
“Even though he can’t talk and communicate with us, he’s one of the captains who’s like, ‘Show me, don’t tell me,’ ” senior wide receiver Alec Ward, another captain, said. “He’ll pull somebody aside and show them and communicate in his own way instead of telling them and screaming at them.
“It’s kind of a different kick off of what a captain can be. He likes to get excited. We all feed off his energy, which is why he’s one of the captains because we all follow him.”
Mom knows best
Football has been a part of Holmes’ life for several years, but he didn’t join a team until he was 12, after his sister, Lauryn, heard about the Southfield Ravens from a classmate at Detroit Cass Tech.
“I was kind of laying around and being lazy and stuff,” Holmes explained through Kettinger. “My sister talked to some other coaches and they told me to come out to play. I was curious so I went out to try football. I realized I’m pretty big and I wanted to keep on playing, I wanted to keep on getting better so I could play in high school.”
But his first day of practice was almost his last. It was much more difficult and demanding than he imagined.
“We took him to practice and he hated it the first day,” his mother, Gail, said. “I really felt bad for him because he was so dead tired from all of the exercising and the running.”
It wasn’t that she wanted him to become a football star; she just wanted the youngest of her three children to be involved in a team sport.
That is why the two had a mother-son talk, with the mother doing all of the talking. She spoke about giving football a fair shot before giving up.
Reluctantly, Holmes agreed and went to a second practice.
“That next day he was hooked,” Gail said. “He was so passionate about it; how could I stop him?”
It wasn’t long before Holmes insisted on being the first one to practice so he could take out the equipment. He loved being at practice.
“I wanted to put him in environments where he didn’t necessarily have an interpreter,” she said. “I’ve never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him or give him any special treatment. I know he’s a hard worker and this is his passion. When he puts his mind to it, he can do anything.”