Burrell alum Josh Hanna a part of historic football season at Gallaudet

Bill West
| Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 12:56 a.m.

Near the core of a one-of-a-kind NCAA football team was a Burrell alum who served the rarest of roles during the past four seasons.

Gallaudet's team consists of players who are deaf or hard of hearing. One of its starting wide receivers, 6-foot-2, 197-pound senior Josh Hanna, dedicated the bulk of his playing time to blocking rather than pulling in receptions.

Hanna, a 2010 Burrell graduate who is hard of hearing, became an inspirational figure within a program that captivated the nation for a few weeks this fall. Gallaudet, relying on a run-heavy option offense, won nine straight games on its way to the school's first appearance in the NCAA Division III playoffs — no other men's team in the university's 149-year history has made an NCAA postseason tournament.

ESPN, the Washington Post, CBS Sports and other media outlets documented Gallaudet's historic season, which ended Nov. 23 with a 34-7 first-round loss to Hobart.

The loss capped Hanna's career, which included 26 starts. Hanna, who also started at long snapper as a junior and senior, finished with five receptions for 41 yards.

“It has always been a dream of mine to play football at the next level,” Hanna wrote in an email. “Before coach (Chuck Goldstein) came knocking on my door, I didn't see myself playing football again after high school. But after learning more about what Gallaudet had to offer, I decided to pursue my dream and play for the Bison.”

Until Hanna arrived at Gallaudet in Washington, D.C., he relied on lip reading and limited audio input to communicate with those around him. Hard of hearing since at least age 4, Hanna can detect most sounds — he cannot hear high frequencies, including a referee's whistle. But what he hears still is considerably less than what someone with no limitations picks up.

Late in his senior year, Hanna found out about Gallaudet and added it to his list of college options, which also included Clarion, Slippery Rock and Penn State.

“I chose Gallaudet because I wanted to experience something new,” Hanna wrote. “I never had the opportunity to receive direct communication from my teachers, so I would miss a lot of information in class lectures. I felt that Gallaudet provided the best opportunity for me to learn in an environment that best fit me.

“I also wanted to surround myself and become a part of the deaf culture, which I never had the opportunity to do growing up.”

Just before the start of his freshman year, Hanna went through a five-week program that taught him American Sign Language.

Hanna's arrival coincided with Goldstein's first season as Gallaudet's coach.

“He was just waiting to develop an identity,” said Goldstein, who counted Hanna among his first recruits. “I knew just from meeting him and seeing that he was quiet and low-key, he was what Gallaudet represents. I knew if he gave us the chance, he'd grow and develop into a leader. And that's exactly what he did.”

Initially recruited to play outside linebacker or defensive back, Hanna moved to wide receiver about two weeks into training camp.

Enter the “Blocking Machine,” Hanna's nickname among teammates.

“I like to play physically, so that was a major benefit to me,” he wrote. “I have never been a person of individual statistics, but I would do whatever I could to help my team win.”

Hanna's satisfaction with his blocking went so deep that he even created a four-minute highlight reel this season.

“Not only did he accept (his role), he made it easier for other wide receivers to go ahead and take pride in what they do,” Goldstein said. “We graded every game film, and his average grade for the season was in the mid-90s. He helped extend plays.”

This season, Gallaudet led Division III in average time of possession (35 minutes per game) and was fourth in rushing yards per game (313).

“Seeing this program be built from almost the bottom my freshman year, and then being able to experience a finish like this, nothing is more sweet than that,” Hanna wrote. “It's almost like adding a cherry to the top of an ice cream sundae.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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