FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. - Khalid Kareem will begin his college career in less than a month.
Notre Dame announced the four-star defensive end as one its early enrollees last weekend, signaling a somewhat official end to a recruitment that included a brief verbal commitment to Michigan State and a longer one to Alabama.
Kareem will arrive in South Bend after participating in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl to cap his high school career. He’s entered the stretch run of his life as a prep star.
Irish Illustrated sat down with Khlaid and his father, Ken, to discuss recruiting and the road ahead in this Q&A.
Jake Brown: For Khalid, what’s it like now that you’re this close to enrolling?
Khalid Kareem: It’s really hitting me now that my high school career is over and I’m about to take my next step into my football career and academic career. Going to Notre Dame is huge. I’ve been working out, been training a little bit just to make sure I’m ready and in shape for when I get there — that I’m not off the curve, I guess.
I just want to be the best player I can be and do my best to help out thee team. I’ll definitely have to watch a lot of film, study the playbook hard, work hard every day in practice and in the weight room. Then make sure I keep up with my grades.
JB: Obviously, your journey was different than a lot of guys. You were committed to Alabama for quite awhile. When do you start to see maybe that’s what you didn’t want to do and being close to home was a better option?
Khalid Kareem: Kinda toward the time where I de-committed. Talking to my mom, she just said the distance for her was gonna be a tough one. Notre Dame was just a great fit.
JB: What about Notre Dame made it a great fit and did you know right away it could be the final destination?
Khalid Kareem: When I committed to Alabama I had my three schools. Notre Dame, Alabama and Michigan. Me and my dad, we wrote notes down about the positives for each school. Just the combination of academics and athletics, the coaching staff at Notre Dame was a great selling point.
JB: How close was it the first time around?
Khalid Kareem: It was close. That morning, going back and forth about where we should go.
JB: Getting back to Notre Dame, what do you expect life to be like there? Football is obviously like a full-time job, plus school.
Khalid Kareem: It’s just gonna step up from high school to college. Like 10 times what it was. I’m gonna have to be ready for it.
JB: Have academics always been a big thing for you?
Khalid Kareem: Yeah, definitely. I think right now I have like a 3.75 (GPA). My parents have always raised me to maintain good grades.
JB: When you were watching Notre Dame down the stretch, they’re this close to beating Stanford and possibly getting into the playoff, what was that like?
Khalid Kareem: It was great getting a chance to watch it. That and their show on Showtime. It just gave you more of a look of the team. It was great watching them because I can see myself helping them out next season. They only lost to Clemson and Stanford by like two points. It was nail biter every time.
JB: What was it like watching the last five minutes of the Stanford game?
Khalid Kareem: It was a tough one. When we scored, I thought we had them. But he made the field goal. That was the game.
JB: What did you learn about the coaches or the program by watching the Showtime series?
Khalid Kareem: I kinda got more detailed with how they go about their business. On my official and my previous visit I kinda got to see how they were with the recruits. Now I got a chance to see how they react with their players.
JB: I was talking to some other guys about Keith Gilmore. It seems like guys really connect with him. Why is that do you think?
Khalid Kareem: He’s a great guy. He recruited me when he was at North Carolina, so when he came to Notre Dame it was a perfect fit. Plus, I played with his grandson in little league and my dad knows his family. It’s just a connection right there.
JB: He’s been described to me as an older guy that’s still cool with younger players.
Khalid Kareem: I feel like that’s an accurate description. But he can still get the best out of me. I know he respects his players. He treats them right but he still gets fired up when he coaches them and gets the best out of his players.
JB: Have you seen that this year? Do you think he’s elevated the play of the defensive line?
Khalid Kareem: Definitely. I’ve seen that with a lot of the linemen this year. Their progression from last year to this year, it’s gone up a notch.
JB: Now a few questions for dad. Are you ready to turn him loose and send him off to college?
Ken Kareem: You know what? It’s kinda one of those things that’s bittersweet for us. We know we’re gonna miss him being around the house, screwing around. But we’re excited about the opportunity to not only play ball at Notre Dame but to just go off to college. My daughter, she goes to college locally. So I’m glad to see him go off the college. I’m excited about it. I’m anxious.
JB: What are you most curious about? Is it the football part or the college part?
Ken Kareem: It’s probably right up the middle. Obviously, football is gonna be the icing on the cake. To see my son play college ball, especially at Notre Dame, and I’ve been feeling like this since he was probably a sophomore. Just seeing him play college ball at these huge stadiums and being a football coach, that first game is probably gonna be overwhelming for me. Especially if he makes a play.
JB: The people sitting next to you should watch out?
Ken Kareem: Oh yeah. The people next to me should watch out because I’m probably gonna be going crazy. I remember sitting next to (Daniel) Cage’s mom when he first got in the game as a freshman. We were tapping her like, ‘He’s in. He’s in.’ I can just imagine that being me, like, ‘Is that him running out there?’ We’re excited about it. We worked hard. The recruiting, you mentioned it earlier, it went from being kinda awkward for us. I remember being on campus at some of these schools and kinda being overlooked because maybe there was a big recruit on campus and maybe Khalid and some of these other kids were just there. Even if we had an offer it was, ‘Hey, Kareem, we’ll talk to you when we get back.’ It went from that for us to him being the big guy on campus. It got awkward, then it got exciting, then it got stressful then it got fun. It was a roller coaster. When he committed to Alabama, I thought it was done. It was a long way, but he was gonna be playing for Alabama.
JB: How close was it in your mind the first time around?
Ken Kareem: Really, he probably couldn’t have picked anything wrong. It was Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan in that order. Michigan came into play for one simple reason, they’re close. They’re home, they’re close. We didn’t feel the fit. There was a lot of things we didn’t feel at Michigan. People to this day, we’re walking through the mall, ‘Go Blue.’ To this day, it’s some random dude yelling, ‘Go Blue.’ We’re like, ‘Where did that just come from?’ It just wasn’t to me, a fit.
JB: For both of you, what was the most fun part of the recruiting process?
Ken Kareem: I wore three hats as a coach, a fan and a father. It was fun for me to get on some of these campuses, especially once he had obtained a lot of offers. When we got to some of these campuses, we really got the red carpet rolled out. Our first time on some of these campuses, Khalid really felt wanted. Penn State was amazing. They really rolled it out for us. Harvard, Yale, even to see some of those schools. To be on campus at Harvard and Yale was probably the most memorable because of the historic nature of the schools.
Khalid Kareem: Probably the same thing. Just getting to go across the country and see some of these great institutions, meet some great people — the coaches and their staffs.
JB: I’ve had kids tell me over the years there’s a weird stage where you go from seeing coaches on TV to now they’re meeting with you face to face. What was that like initially?
Khalid Kareem: It was huge. Definitely meeting (Nick) Saban, that was huge. Growing up I didn’t think I’d be sitting in a room talking with him about recruiting. It was huge, getting a chance to sit down and talk with those guys.
JB: How different are those guys from what we see on TV or in the media?
Khalid Kareem: They’re very relaxed. They’re just kinda laid back guys. They’re about their business, but laid back. They’re not riled up like you see them on Saturdays. They’re kinda chill.
Ken Kareem: I took a lot of pride in letting him know, all my kids, that we all put our pants on the same way. I actually talked to (Jim) Harbaugh about this. The biggest difference between you and I is our pocketbook. We can talk football all day long. I tried to keep Khalid humble like that. When you meet these guys, treat them just like you would anyone else. One of your teachers, anyone. Shake their hand, don’t be so much in awe. Respect what they do and listen to them but know it’s more of a back and forth. They’re coaches, you’re a player. You all have a relationship. For us, especially for me, don’t get me wrong, I was excited about the opportunity to sit in some of these meetings and hear a coach talk about really wanting your son. That was exciting because we’re sitting there just like we’re sitting here with you. It’s me, him and (Mark) Dantonio. Me, him and Harbaugh. Me, him and coach Kelly. It was really exciting to meet coach Kelly for the first time. Absolutely it was.
JB: Was there anything about recruiting looking back on it now that you didn’t expect?
Khalid Kareem: It kinda all matched up but it came so fast. When I started getting my offers it came so fast. I kinda didn’t expect it. But it was a great feeling.
Ken Kareem: I feel the same way. The only thing that wasn’t expected maybe was the offers. I remember him and I going through the recruiting process and we saw kids getting offers. Some kids we had played with, some that I had coached. And I’m thinking, you’re just as good as them. You’re just as big as them. What’s going on? Why are we not getting offers? He’s got the grades. I remember kinda questioning each other. I think one of the things that definitely surprised us was how fast and often the offers started coming in.
JB: What was the best game day environment you guys saw?
Ken Kareem: Alabama.
Khalid Kareem: Oh yeah, Alabama (against Ole Miss).
JB: So the SEC environment lived up to expectations.
Ken Kareem: Absolutely. Even the spring game. Alabama, to be honest with you, is probably the best environment I’ve been in. We come from a state that’s got the Big House in it. Bryant-Denny Stadium is probably the best environment we’ve been in for football. Those fans are fanatical. And not only that, with the recruits, everyone wants your autograph. I’m like, he’s not one of the players. He’s just surrounded.
JB: So Khalid pretty much has the signature down now?
Khalid Kareem: Oh yeah, I do.
JB: Last thing I’m curious about is with his Notre Dame career. If we sat down in four or five years, what would you expect his time in the program to look like?
Ken Kareem: What I would expect when his career is over, to be honest with you, is for him to have relationships even outside of football. For him to have relationships with jobs or maybe I should say opportunities because of his Notre Dame background … I think what I would hope is he’s not just going to school, playing football and going to his dorm. I hope he’s cultivating some of those relationships and even becoming a relationship for someone. Maybe someone can say, ‘Hey, I know Khalid Kareem.’ And he knows somebody else and has a plan or a goal. I guess the best way I can answer that is just relationships. And from a football standpoint, maybe he plays on the next level. How do I think it should look? How do I expect it should look? Just great relationships, even on the football side.
Khalid Kareem: I’d probably expect to have my degree, definitely. Have a great career and leave a great legacy at Notre Dame. Really just be set for life after that with the relationships I’ll make there on and off the field. Pretty much that.