Will ‘Fordson Tractors’ carry him to stardom?
DEARBORN — The National Football League doesn’t discriminate based on race or ethnicity, just like every other employer out there, at least in theory.
But for one reason or another, America’s most popular sports league just doesn’t offer a whole lot of diversity when it comes to its players.
Most young football players have an idol that they look up to and aspire to be like, giving them the drive they need to pursue their ultimate goal of playing in the NFL.
But when Mohamad Moukdad of Dearborn’s Fordson High looks around the league, he doesn’t see anyone who looks like him or even has a similar-sounding name. His goal is to help change that and to be a role model for Arabic kids across the country who dream of making a living playing football.
Of course, the NFL is a ways off, and Moukdad knows that. He’s not going pro straight out of high school. But there’s one skill he has that’s already NFL-caliber, and it’s a pretty important one considering that he plays the offensive line: Moukdad is strong; NFL strong to be exact.
Weightlifting enthusiasts will tell you the bench press isn’t the be-all, end-all measure of a player’s strength. But it is the main measuring tool for rookies at the NFL combine, and Moukdad, a high school senior who plays offensive tackle, is actually stronger on the bench press right now than many of the linemen entering the NFL after college who tested at the 2007 draft combine in Indianapolis.
With his ability to do 26 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, Moukdad is stronger than 20 of the 46 linemen who tested at the combine. Add those stats to the fact that most players increase their strength tremendously in college through advanced weight-training programs and the maturity of becoming an adult, and it’s easy to see how Moukdad could be a monster by the time he hits his senior year in college.
“Mohamad’s one of the strongest kids in the state,” said George Yarberry, who writes for the high school football Web site MichiganEliteFootball.com and makes highlight tapes for players with University Sports Recruiters.
“He’s a big, tough, nasty kid. If he has a great senior year, he has the potential to be a Big Ten player.”
Making his strength even more incredible is that the fasting of Ramadan falls right in the middle of football season, a time when players need all the nutrition they can possibly get after long days of practice. Losing muscle is inevitable for an athlete who doesn’t eat until sundown while training hard for football. Moukdad takes the time to strengthen his mental resolve as opposed to his body.
“(The pain) is all in your head, it’s mental,” he said. “You can’t blame it on how tired you are. If you want to do it, you can do it.”
Moukdad’s teammates also draw inspiration from watching him put his massive body through the rigors of training without adequate nourishment.
“When they see a big guy like me do it, it gives them encouragement,” said Moukdad.
Both Yarberry and Moukdad agree that he needs to work on his footwork, 40-yard dash time, and pass-blocking skills to get ready for the next level. But he will have plenty of time to do that this year with new coach Fawad Zaban on board. The Tractors will be running a spread-passing offense instead of their usual power-running game this year to take advantage of the talents of their other star, quarterback Mohammad Bazzi. Moukdad will be forced to pass block more than ever before, which should be good for his development in the long run. He also hopes it will be good for the team, which lost a tough game in rainy, muddy conditions to Detroit Denby in the first round of the state playoffs last year.
Because of less-than-ideal height for a tackle at 6’2 12, 315 pounds, Moukdad will probably shift to guard at the college level. The main question is on what campus he will be playing guard. Moukdad doesn’t seem to mind if he plays for a big-time program, he just wants to get a chance to show what he can do.
“It doesn’t matter where I play,” said Moukdad. “Whichever school gives me a tryout is fine; I’ll go to play anywhere.”
Some big-name schools have shown interest, including Michigan, Louisville, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan State, and Eastern Michigan and Duke are also top options. The MSU coaches even visited Fordson and pulled him out of a class for a chat.
Wherever Moukdad ends up, however, he vows to continue to work hard in hopes of becoming an inspiration to someone else down the line.
“I want to be one of the first Arabic players to play in the NFL,” he said. “Especially coming out of my city, Dearborn has never had anyone make it that far that I know of. I just want to represent the city, you know?”
Actually, quarterback Gary Danielson, who is Caucasian, made it to the NFL after playing at Dearborn Divine Child, and he is now a college football analyst for CBS Sports.
But with all due respect to Mr. Danielson, his success didn’t have the impact that Moukdad’s would if he were to be fortunate enough to make it that far. Most little kids don’t grow up dreaming about playing offensive line, but they do like to pretend they are their favorite player while playing ball in the backyard. Maybe one day, some kid will pretend he is Mohamad Moukdad, and it will give him the hope that he too can play in the NFL.