Pottstown’s Pearson doesn’t let blindness hurt his passion for football

POTTSTOWN >> Marvin Pearson yearned to be with his friends again.

Having spent the last three years at the Overbrook School for the Blind, the Pottstown native was given an opportunity to attend his home school his senior year.

Pearson took it. Now, he’s making memories.

“There was an opportunity for me to come back and graduate with my class and with the kids I’ve known since the first grade,” Pearson said. “Growing up, we’ve always been a family. People that live in Pottstown, they kind of never leave. They kind of just stay here. I’m not exactly sure why, but Pottstown is a great town. I’m just happy I had the opportunity to be able to come back. It was a better academic opportunity, better athletic opportunity. I just wanted to feel what it’s like being around the people again before I go off to college.

His ‘Homecoming’ of sorts is only fitting as Pottstown hosts Pottsgrove in the ‘Backyard Brawl’ Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. The game will serve as the Trojans’ Homecoming.

“He’s been a positive addition to the team,” Pottstown head coach Gary Rhodenbaugh said. “I think for him it was somewhat of a homecoming. He spent some years at Overbrook and for him to be able to come back and be a part of this community, this team, I think is a real positive. Not just for him, but for our entire team.”

Sam Stewart — Digital First Media Marvin Pearson, flanked by Zack Griffin, left, and Draeden Gwinner, right, returned to Pottstown for his senior season and is a member of the Trojans’ team despite being blind since elementary school.
Sam Stewart — Digital First Media
Marvin Pearson, flanked by Zack Griffin, left, and Draeden Gwinner, right, returned to Pottstown for his senior season and is a member of the Trojans’ team despite being blind since elementary school.

Pearson may be blind – he started losing his vision in second grade and fully lost his sight two years later – but one wouldn’t realize it on first glance … or maybe the second or the third.

That’s because the senior running back is indistinguishable during practice and in games. Donning his No. 28 jersey and navy blue Trojans helmet, Pearson does what any player does. He participates in drills in practice, warms up and sprints out with the team for games. With the help of his “play-by-play analyst” freshman Zack Griffin, Pearson is kept in the know of each play, where receivers line up, the score, the time, down and distance, and when to yell out the “motion, motion” call.

Pearson is almost entirely deaf as well, but wears high-powered hearing aids that allow him to hear his teammates.

There isn’t anything he can’t do … and he’ll let you know of that.

“Nothing is out of reach, everything is in reach,” Pearson said. “Me playing football, everyone asks “Marvin, how do you play football?’ I just tell them, come out and watch me. Look at the way I never give up, or encourage our guys to do better.”

Don’t think Pearson is just a cheerleader either.

“He loves it,” Rhodenbaugh said. “During the scouting report he asks questions, good questions. He’s definitely into the strategy and the X’s and O’s.

“It’s been a feeling out process, what accommodations would benefit him and what is he comfortable with. Earlier today (Wednesday) we were doing tackling stations, he participates. It’s been a real cool experience for him and for us.”

He started going blind in second grade, an experience more frustrating than fearful for the young Pearson, who had a hard time getting his teachers and doctor to believe him due to his “boy who cried wolf” joking demeanor. He fully lost his vision nearly two years later.

“It was a tough time, but these type of things you have to get over,” Pearson said. “It wasn’t scary at all. I was more frustrated than anything. I was the type of kid that played around a lot. I went in the school and I was trying to look at a dictionary and I realized the words on the paper weren’t as clear as they should have been. I was telling my teachers, I was telling my mom and at first nobody believed me, not even the eye doctor. He said that he believed that I was having trouble seeing but didn’t know to what degree because I always was kidding around. I think at that point in time, that mentally helped me mature.”

Pearson played football and wrestled during his time at Pottstown middle school before attending Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia the past three years. He was a standout athlete at Overbrook in track and field, losing only one race since 10th grade while running the 50-yard, 75-yard, 200-meter and 400-meter. He also worked his way to the starting lineup in “Goalball” a 3-on-3 game designed specifically for blind athletes. The game features two teams that alternate throwing or rolling a ball embedded with bells (similar to a medium sized medicine ball) from one side of the playing area to the other. Players remain in the area of their own goal in both defense and offense, and must use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball.

“It’s basically a cross between soccer and bowling,” he explained. “There are two soccer nets — one on each end ­— and you try to get ball size of basketball into the net by throwing or rolling it.

“Some guys were able to bounce it but the ball is very hollow so they don’t bounce well. I was on the bench my sophomore year but saw a lot of playing time. Junior year I worked my way up to being a starter.”

He would have started again his senior season, but coming back to Pottstown and suiting up with his friends for one last season was too good to pass up.

“I’ve known a lot of these kids for so long that when I was finally able to suit up, I felt blessed,” Pearson said. “Even though I can’t see, God blessed me with athletic ability, to be strong and to be fast. It felt really good to be on the field playing the sport that I love the most.”

On Saturday, that’s where No. 28 will be.

College Bound

Pearson, who manages 17 fantasy football teams, wants to stay involved in sports once he goes to college. He is looking at either Temple or Kutztown and is looking to work as a sports agent or scout.

“He loves sports and one of the things that’s so important is that he’s an advocate for himself, too,” Rhodenbaugh said. “I think he’ll end up doing real, real well in that field. He knows how to be assertive, and at the same time, he knows how to ask people for help if or when he needs it.”

Backyard Brawl

Pottstown hasn’t bested its neighboring opponent since a 47-0 victory in 2002. Pottsgrove enters Saturday’s clash after a dominating 35-0 victory over Upper Merion while Pottstown comes in after a disappointing 20-6 loss to Pope John Paul II last Saturday. Pottsgrove’s Rahsul Faison is second in the PAC with 708 rushing yards and first with nine touchdowns. Faison, Desmond Austin, Kobey Baldwin and Adam Girafalco each have an interception.

Lengthy Streaks

Boyertown is looking to top Perkiomen Valley for the first time since 2010. That’s also the same year Methacton last topped Spring-Ford. Pope John Paul II is also looking for its first victory over Phoenixville in school history. The Golden Panthers are 0-6 since Kennedy-Kenrick and St. Pius X merged.

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