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Despite hearing barrier, Hart ready to compete

Among the attributes that made Arthur Hart an outstanding high school football player was his ability to see the whole field.

“My coaches knew I might not have been the best athlete,” said Hart, who is competing to be the Charlotte 49ers punter this season. “But they always said I had good vision, that I had a command of what was going on everywhere on the field. I pay attention to detail.”

Hart had one year remaining in what was a stellar career as a linebacker, running back and punter at Washington’s Model School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing when he attended a football camp last summer at Duke. Among the observers was former Charlotte assistant coach Drew Dayton, who gave Hart his number and asked him to call him.

It took Dayton’s sharp eye and then a stint by Hart at the 49ers’ camp later last summer to convince Charlotte coach Brad Lambert he was worth a scholarship.

“You’ve got to see them kick live,” Lambert said of prospective punters. “But I saw that he’s got a good strong leg and a good demeanor about him. We really liked him.”

Hart was born with what he describes as mild-to-moderate hearing loss. He wears hearing aids and reads lips well. In class, an interpreter (furnished by the school’s Office of Disability Services), uses sign language to help him follow what the professor says.

And since the snap to the punter in Charlotte’s system isn’t predicated on a voice signal, a potential barrier is avoided.

“I just watch the ball,” said Hart.

Said Lambert: “It’s all sight, we don’t use any kind of (voice) cadence with our punter. The key will be making sure he’s getting the call, where we’re punting the ball to, if we’re running a fake. He’s got to be getting the communication from the sideline.”

Lambert said most communication issues are minor.

“He’s only a little limited,” said Lambert, who also serves as the 49ers’ special-teams coach. “He’s really good at reading lips and he can hear at certain levels.”

Lambert laughed.

“So a lot of the time he can hear me.”

Hart has only punted for two years, his junior and senior seasons at Model. He began playing at a mainstream high school in his hometown of Grafton, Wis. After one year there, he transferred to a smaller school for the deaf in Wisconsin which only had an eight-man football team.

“I always had a dream to play Division I football, so I knew it wasn’t going to come from being there,” said Hart, who is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds.

So Hart went to Model, which is on the campus of Gallaudet University, the only college in the world in which all programs and services are specifically designed for deaf and hard of hearing students.

Hart was the captain of the MSSD football and basketball teams. He rushed for 588 yards and had 60 tackles as a senior. He also scored 27 points in a basketball game last season.

Hart is competing with sophomore Hayden Pezzoni for Charlotte’s punting job after last season’s starter, Brandon Strupp, graduated.

“Being hearing impaired hasn’t had an impact on how I play on the football field,” said Hart. “But it’s had an impact on the decisions I’ve made in my life. If I hadn’t had it, I would never have come to Charlotte. I would have stayed in Wisconsin probably, instead of going to D.C. So in that sense it’s been good.”

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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