Jarvis Anderson already had a stranglehold on first place in the Region III-4A Triple Jump finals. Nobody in the field could touch his opening jump of 48-feet-3-inches.
But Taylor High School track coach Earven Flowers and Anderson had already set their goal before the meet even started, and the junior hadn’t hit it yet. With no other athlete capable of matching him, it was time for Anderson to compete against himself.
“I wanted a 49-foot jump from him,” Flowers said. “When dealing with Jarvis, you have to Jedi mind trick him. So I said, ‘I want 50 today,’ to get 49.”
Flowers looked Anderson in the eye and gave him two simple commands: Don’t think about it. Just go. Anderson sprinted down the lane, showing off the speed that earned him the region’s 300-meter hurdles and 110m hurdles title, and launched.
“I felt it right away when I took off,” Anderson said. “I felt like I was flying. I knew I had jumped really far.”
The gathering crowd of onlookers erupted as the meet official announced Anderson’s mark of 51’1”, good for the No.1-ranked triple jump in Texas. But Anderson never heard the announcement. He didn’t hear the shouts of praise that day.
He hasn’t heard them his entire life.
Anderson was born 100 percent deaf.
The rising senior never used his deafness as an excuse, however, excelling on the football field and in track for Taylor High School.
“A lot of people think I can’t do this or that because I’m deaf,” Anderson said. “But I’m just as equal as any other man.”
In terms of athletics, however, he’s not equal to the other students. He’s better than them.
Don Williams first witnessed Anderson’s raw ability when he taught his fifth grade P.E. class at the Texas School for the Deaf. A former baseball player, Williams has worked for the school since 1983 and currently serves as the track coach. He’s also a referee with the Central Texas Officials Association.
Williams knew Anderson possessed a special talent at that young age. Anderson had been training every summer since he was five years old, when his father established the Taylor Thunderbolts track team. Anderson says he started focusing on both the hurdles and the triple jump when he first started competing with the Thunderbolts.
Williams saw the talent in that P.E. class, and it translated seamlessly onto the football field.
“He was catching the ball and running through the defense like he was a junior or senior in high school,” Williams said. “Then I officiated his football games for the Wilco Junior Tigers football league, so I saw that skill when he was playing fifth grade and sixth grade tackle football.”
From then on, Williams began coaching Anderson every summer in AAU track.
Those long days training in the Texas sun started to pay off for Anderson as he made a name for himself at McNeil High School in Round Rock. As a sophomore, Anderson won a district championship in the 300-m hurdles before finishing fourth at the 6A State Meet in May 2021.
He was dominating on the track and a varsity football wide receiver as an underclassmen, but his time at McNeil was taking a toll on him.
Anderson’s home was never in McNeil, even though he spent his first two years of high school there. He was a transplant.
His family lived over 30 minutes away in Taylor, but his father had to drive him every day to McNeil because the 6A school was better equipped to accommodate Anderson’s deafness than the hometown 4A school. In the summer before his junior season, however, Anderson decided to transfer to Taylor High where his childhood friends and brother already attended. The school could now offer a consistent interpreter.
The interpreter is nowhere to be found on the field, however, because Anderson doesn’t need them there.
Flowers, who serves as Taylor’s defensive coordinator in addition to his track duties, said Anderson is an expert at reading lips and can understand what he’s saying from across the field.
“It’s scary for me sometimes because I treat him so normal that when he walks away I forget he’s deaf,” Flowers said. “So I’m yelling at him, ‘Jarvis!’, and the kids bust out laughing.”
Anderson came back home at a critical time for the Taylor football program. The Ducks needed a spark after two consecutive 0–10 seasons. Taylor implemented a spread/RPO offense under first-year head coach Brandon Houston in the offseason and deployed Anderson as a do-it-all playmaker. Anderson gladly takes that role. He wants the ball in his hands.
“It’s perfect,” Anderson said. “It gives me a chance to play running back and wide receiver so I can touch the ball a lot more.”
But Anderson found a clear-cut home on the defensive side of the ball.
Flowers, who played defensive back at Kentucky, inserted Anderson as a starting cornerback. At first, the coach tried to keep Anderson at the corner position closest to the Taylor sideline so he could better communicate with him. That strategy lasted all of one game, when Flowers turned Anderson loose to shadow the other team’s best receiver all over the field.
In the season opener, Taylor won their first game in nearly three years against Robinson, 32–13. Anderson hauled in two receiving touchdowns and grabbed two interceptions on defense, returning one of those for a touchdown. He later had the game of the season in Week 3, compiling five total touchdowns and 177 yards of total offense en route to earning Mr. Texas Football Player of the Week.
Taylor finished the year 3–7, a stark improvement from the previous two years, and Anderson was named 13-4A First Team All-District as a Utility Player.
Anderson and Flowers’ relationship, however, didn’t stop on the football field. They had some more work to do on the track.
Flowers and Anderson’s relationship actually dates back to when Anderson was still a freshman at McNeil.
Anderson’s father heard the rumors about Flowers’ coaching prowess in the hurdles, and asked the coach if he could give his son some pointers when the pair happened to bump into each other.
Flowers hails from a hurdles family. His cousin, Derek Spears, at one point held the 100m hurdles record at the University of Texas. His mother broke the hurdles record at Texas Tech, only for his sister to then break that record a generation later. He had a front row seat to elite track runners all of his life.
That’s why he was instantly able to recognize a severe weakness in Anderson’s start when he started training him.
Unable to hear the sound of the starting gun, Anderson would instead look up when he was settled into the blocks and start running when he saw the smoke emanating from the gun. This would cause him to pop up straight, forcing him to play catchup throughout the race.
In one of their first sessions, Flowers and Anderson made a breakthrough.
“I asked him, ‘Can you feel it?’ and he said, ‘Yeah I can feel the gun,’” Flowers said. “So now he doesn’t look up, he just waits to feel the vibration from the gun and then he gets out. So he’s one of the first people to the first hurdle and that’s the biggest key in hurdling.”
Working together every day now that Anderson was back in Taylor, he began to unlock his full potential.
In the same meet that he set the new distance mark for Texas in the triple jump, Anderson earned area championships in the 110m hurdles with a time of 14.02 and the 300m hurdles with a 37.27. Anderson’s triumphs on the track morphed him into a local celebrity despite the fact he never said a word.
“He walks around the track and people are coming up to him saying, ‘Can I have your autograph? Can I take a picture with you?’” Flowers said. “I’ve never dealt with a kid where it’s like he’s a rock star. He’s fun to watch and he’s a humble kid.”
His performance at the area meet made him a shoe-in for the 4A UIL State Meet in both the hurdles and the triple jump. But Anderson never competed at State.
Instead, he had to catch a flight to Brazil.
Anderson trained the entire spring to qualify for State. Both he and Flowers knew from the beginning, however, that even if he did make it, the meet might not be in the cards.
That’s because Anderson qualified for the 2022 Summer Deaflympics in Caxias Do Sul, Brazil, in the triple jump and 400m hurdles. That opportunity collided with the State Meet on May 12-14.
Anderson had to make a decision. He could chase a state title, or he could represent the United States in international competition.
“I thought about it a little bit,” Anderson said. “But then I thought if I went to the Deaflympics I would be playing against older and more skilled people, so I would be up against more advanced competition.”
The Deaflympics aren’t organized by age group. Instead, athletes of all ages compete against each other in the various events. This meant Anderson would run side-by-side with grown men, some of whom had been training since before he was born.
Flowers had known about Anderson’s opportunity with the Deaflympics since football season, and he had prepared for the possible conflict that could occur if Anderson qualified for State. When it came time to sit down and talk about Anderson’s options, Flowers’ position on the matter was clear.
“That’s your community. And you’re representing our country,” Flowers told him. “That’s as cool as it gets, so if you make a decision to go do that I will not be mad at you. Whatever you want to do, I’m backing you 100 percent.”
Anderson represented his country well in the 400m hurdles, despite the fact that particular race is not a UIL-sanctioned competition. He placed third overall with a time of 52.57, setting a new Junior World Deaf Record and placing him as the No.2-ranked time in the entire United States.
He also got the chance to meet other deaf athletes from around the world and witness first hand how the older men competed with hearing loss. The first time he tried to communicate with an athlete from another country, however, he was thrown for a loop.
“I learned that the sign language in different countries is different, so that was a first time experience for me,” Anderson said.
Anderson is an all-district football player. He’s got the best triple jump in the state of Texas and he’s the No.2-ranked 400m hurdler in the entire country.
Yet right now he has only one offer from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., to run track and play football in college. Gallaudet is a federally chartered school for deaf students that plays Division III football in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference.
Flowers says that if Anderson wasn’t deaf, he would have 25 offers right now and be a four-star recruit. He knows talent when he sees it. After all, he did play at the highest level of Division I football and he grew up in a record-breaking hurdles family.
“It’s not the ability. He’s an awesome football player,” Flowers said. “I tell people all the time - I played in the SEC and he’s better than I was as a freshman in college right now.”
But colleges want to see how Anderson communicates with his coaches and teammates before they offer him a scholarship. Flowers says that his job is to let the coaches know how easy it is. He treats Anderson completely normal and says the athlete follows directions perfectly as long as he is looking at his coach. Flowers doesn’t even know sign language.
Competitors and coaches at the track meets don’t perceive Anderson as deaf until they are told. Flowers recalls a meet when an El Campo High School coach approached him and inquired how he was able to coach the deaf kid.
“I said, ‘I treat him like he’s normal. Y’all are watching me now.’” Flowers said. “(The El Campo coach) said, ‘I didn’t even know he was deaf, Coach.’ That’s the way we do it and that’s the way (Anderson) prefers it.”
Anderson has his entire senior season to try and set more records and prove once more that the communication barrier is relatively non-existent. Rather than sulk about his lack of opportunities at the next level for the moment, Anderson is choosing to lean on his faith.
“I’m staying positive because I know my senior year is coming up and God will give me the opportunity and more offers will pop up,” Anderson said. “I just need to be patient.”
But as of right now, he’s focused on helping Taylor football make the Playoffs. That means he’ll continue to shadow the other team’s best receiver on defense and touch the ball as much as he can while deployed as a Swiss Army Knife running back and wide receiver.
Because his lack of hearing doesn’t mean he’s not a damn good football player.
“He doesn’t want to be defined by his disability and that’s awesome,” Flowers said.
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