California School for the Deaf-Riverside has 8-man football title hopes

CSDR football coach Keith Adams signs a message to the team after a first-round playoff victory on Saturday.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)
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It’s a Friday night high school football playoff game, and the loudest noise around is the low hum of the generator powering the field lights at California School for the Deaf-Riverside.

The lack of auditory stimulation is replaced by visuals. An onlooker without knowledge of American Sign Language can still feel the atmosphere of a community excited by a team that is playing in the first round of the Southern Section Division 2 8-man playoffs and could end up being the best in school history.

Teammates slap each other on the helmets, running up and down the sidelines as the Cubs drop touchdown after touchdown on Santa Clarita Christian. Behind them, cheerleaders ruffle pom-poms in front of onlookers that whip towels like a windmill. Parents standing and watching on the dirt road outside the field give the occasional cheer. Smiles and laughs abound.

What’s there not to be happy about when you win 70-12 and have earned a record of 10-0?

“The players can now believe in themselves again,” coach Keith Adams said after the dominating win. “They’ve grown up in an area where there’s always been people taking advantage of them because they can’t hear. So it’s definitely brought morale up — their self-esteem is a lot higher.”

Junior quarterback Trevin Adams said in his freshman year, one of his teammates overheard an opposing team’s coach saying, “Don’t lose against the deaf team.”

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CSDR coaches and players watch from the sideline as the Cubs dominate Santa Clarita Christian on Nov. 6, 2021.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)

That coach kept repeating the word “deaf” over and over, Trevin recalled, like it was an insult.

“We felt really offended by that,” said Trevin, who is the coach’s son. “Like, ‘We can’t lose to this deaf team, what will people think?’”

The program has gone through peaks and valleys, but in its history has never won a championship or even made it past the second round of the section playoffs. Before this season, they hadn’t had a winning record in a decade.

“We’ve been in a long drought,” said Erika Thompson, CSDR’s public information officer.

In the past, the team wasn’t as focused or motivated. Trevin recalled morale was low his freshman year as losses continued to pile up.

Many of the CSDR players had grown up playing together around Riverside for youth teams with teammates who could hear when they were younger, and then on CSDR’s middle-school squad. Trevin said he’d known some on the Cubs since he was 2 years old.

With an extra season of experience on the horizon, players getting stronger and faster through weightlifting and a tight-knit group coalescing, Caroline Adams — Adams’ wife and Trevin’s mom — said the group had “potential” in 2020.

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Then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down any plans for a season. Many didn’t see each other for a year and a half.

Brothers Trevin (4) and Kaden Adams (5) celebrate on the sideline during CSDR's playoff win on Nov. 6, 2021.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)

COVID-19 was tough on the program in more ways than one. Plenty of kids on the team, both Adams and his son said, don’t have families that know sign language. Cut off from the comfortable environment of a team and a school where they could express themselves freely through sign, it was “tough,” Trevin said.

“There’s no real connection there, which can be a little bit frustrating. It can be hard on communication — it ends up being a little bit lonely,” Adams said.

When the team was able to get back together over the summer, players were overjoyed to practice again and participate in scrimmages, reunited.

“We hadn’t seen each other in so long, and some of us had no access to the language, so they weren’t socializing at all,” Trevin said. “It was a big deal for all of us to get together.”

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The hiatus gave players and coaches perspective, an understanding of the need for genuine communication. Coupled with Adams suddenly noticing his team had gotten a heck of a lot bigger since the last time he saw them — a year and a half apart from growing teenagers will do that — CSDR hit the ground rolling this fall.

The team’s attitude is different. They’re playing with a particular spirit and energy, Trevin said, and it’s showed: They’ve steamrolled opponents in an undefeated season. Other teams have only come within 10 points of CSDR once this year.

Friday night brought more of the same in their first game of the playoffs, as Trevin racked up seven touchdowns in leading CSDR to a 62-0 lead at halftime.

Despite the massive win and the excitement on the sidelines, Trevin and sophomore wide receiver Jory Valencia remained expressionless after the clock hit zeroes.

“Ten wins doesn’t define us,” Valencia said.

What they hope will define them is a championship. There’s a greater motivation, for both players and coaches, to prove themselves — and the deaf community at large — to the hearing.

“We get discriminated against, and they think that we’re not capable,” Trevin said. “So I think for us to go and win the championship will just prove to the world that their perceptions of deaf people are wrong.”