August 18, 2012

A different kind of sign

So, you think playing middle linebacker in the SEC is tough? Try standing in front of a class for a presentation when you're not allowed to utter a word.

Georgia senior Mike Gilliard knows that feeling well.

A Speech Communication major, part of Gilliard's requirements for his degree is to take and pass two classes in sign language, something the Valdosta native concedes can be a unique challenge.

"Oh yes, definitely, especially since my teacher is deaf," Gilliard said. "You HAVE to know sign language or some form of sign language to be able to understand, so it was definitely intimidating that first day of class."

At least Gilliard's not exactly a rookie when it comes to communicating with the hearing impaired.

"It's actually my second semester right here," Gilliard said. "It's very interesting. I'm taking Part 2 now and like it a lot."

Gilliard isn't the only Bulldog learning the art of using his hands.

Junior Garrison Smith is in the same class with Gilliard, while senior Abry Jones is also taking the course, albeit in another class.

"You know Garrison, he's the class jokester, but at the end of the day he goes well, said Gilliard, who found himself on the end of some good-natured ribbing by Jones when asked to describe the linebacker's knowledge and form.

"I know his probably wasn't too good, he's not a strong sign language dude," cracked Jones, laughing.

However, there's nothing funny about the class or what it means to all involved.

"It's definitely fun. It's different from learning a different kind of language, because you're talking to people on a different level," Jones said. "When you're doing sign language you're talking about how a culture really communicates with each other, and how they express themselves and all that so it's a wonderful thing to see."

One would think Gilliard would be a natural when it comes to communicating with his hands.

As Georgia's starting Mike linebacker, it's his responsibility to communicate with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and relay his signs to the rest of the defense prior to each play.

"You know what, that's basically what it is," Gilliard said. "With me taking signs from Coach Grantham, it's all sign language. It's a like a different language, really the only people who know is me and Coach Grantham."

So, although standing in front of a class for presentation was difficult, it still wasn't quite as touch as say being on the field and needing to stop an opponent on fourth down in order to win a big game.

"Oh, that's two different types of pressure right there," Gilliard laughed. "It's a little bit different."

As far as Georgia's inside linebackers for this fall, Gilliard said there are no problems there, either.

"I feel like this fall right here, as a unit, the inside linebackers, everybody knows what to do , knows their roles and tries to play to the best of their ability," Gilliard said. "I feel as a unit, we're trying each one of us better. If one of us has a flaw, the other one will try to correct it. We're just trying to stay humble and do big things as a unit and as a defense this fall."

For Bulldog fans, that's certainly a good sign.