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Friday, November 23, 2007

E-W lineman's joy is deafening

Special to The Seattle Times

EDMONDS — Mose Fuga is sitting in the Edmonds-Woodway coaches' office, facing some teammates and chatting.

"Stats," says a teammate.

"What?" Fuga asks.

"STATS!"

"What?" Fuga asks again, pretending not to hear.

"Oh, man! You know what I'm saying, you're just messing with me," says the teammate.

A wide smile stretches across the All-WesCo South defensive lineman's face. Fuga can't help but mess with them a little.

The 17-year-old senior is hard of hearing and will likely be completely deaf by 21. But it hasn't stopped him from being an energetic, optimistic, fun-loving part of the Warriors' run to the Class 4A state semifinals. Oh, and he can play football pretty well, too.

He's been called "Sunshine," "Mr. Friendly" and "Mr. Happy."

"He always has a huge smile on face," said his mother, Ty. "And he'll always come up with this wacky way of looking at the bright side of things."

Fuga is not sure when he started losing his hearing. Ty thinks it began declining about age 2. He was an "abnormally quiet toddler," she said.

His older brother, Nick, 18, has been completely deaf since about 5. Their disorder is neurological, not genetic, a coincidence doctors have not been able to explain.

Fuga has an interpreter at games and practices, but with hearing aids he can hear at about 20 percent. He can hear some background noises, including his stepfather, Chris, who has been cheering from the stands at Fuga's games since he was 7.

Rather than get angry or upset about his disorder, Fuga has accepted it. And the E-W football team has been supportive.

"I think of him as a brother," said Warriors running back Tony Heard. "If he needs our help and support, we're there for him."

Said Fuga: "They still keep me as a friend. They don't bat me down because I'm deaf. They make me feel like nothing's wrong with me. They're all like my brothers. They really do care about me, and I care about them too."

Fuga's play at nose tackle has helped the Warriors (12-0) reach the Class 4A state semifinals for a second consecutive year. E-W will play Lewis and Clark of Spokane at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.

Fuga's numbers (two sacks, seven solo tackles, 35 total tackles) don't blow you away because opponents often assign two blockers to handle the 5-foot-9, 230-pounder.

"He gets a lot of respect in our league," said Warriors coach John Gradwohl. "They have to game-plan for him. ... If you don't double-team Mose, you're in trouble. Even when you do double-team Mose, you're in trouble. But if you don't, you're in big trouble."

Fuga faces some disadvantages. He can't hear the snap count, so he has to pay extra attention to the movement of the ball to time his jump. Consequently, he goes offside sometimes, and teammates give him a hard time about it.

"We always mess around. It's tough love," said Warriors receiver/defensive back Antoinne Wafer.

"He's one of the guys," said Gradwohl. "The thing about Mose, it has nothing to do with being deaf. Mose has a great, energetic personality. He's really outgoing, which brings people to him. People don't know he's deaf or hard of hearing because he's happy. He's Mr. Happy."

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