New Focus Helps OSU DT Reach New Heights

Things have not gone according to plan for Nader Abdallah since his arrival on campus at Ohio State, but that all changed during this past offseason thanks to the help of his big brother. In the midst of a breakout season, take a look at how it all began with an early-morning wakeup and some quality family time.

At the halfway point of his career at Ohio State, Nader Abdallah realized something had to give.

In two seasons marred by inconsistent play and off-the-field struggles, the former three-star defensive tackle prospect had seen playing time in just eight games and had accumulated a grand total of one tackle. As he pondered his future with the Buckeyes in the immediate aftermath of the team's 42-39 victory over Michigan that capped a perfect 12-0 regular season in 2006, Abdallah realized he was going to need some help to make his goals come true.

Shortly after OSU's 41-14 defeat in the national championship game, his older brother, Mazen, hopped a plane from Houston to Columbus.

Three months later, the coaching staff was talking about the progress Nader had made in the offseason as the Buckeyes began playing spring football. Now a part-time starter for the Buckeyes, much of the credit goes to his big brother.

"He lived with me for a couple of months," Nader said. "He helped me out not just football, but mentally, spiritually, all kinds of ways.

"He pretty much was with me the whole time. I dedicate everything, all my hard work, to him because without him I wouldn't be where I am. All I needed was somebody to just put me on that track, and that's what he did. He came here and put me on that track and then from then on I just had to keep going."

The workouts began every morning at 5:15 a.m., when the two would wake up. They would drive over to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and begin working out at 6 a.m.

First came running a few miles. Then came abdominal workouts with speed coordinator Butch Reynolds. Then workouts with the team. Then more running. Then class. Then, later in the day, more workouts at the Woody.

His teammates took notice, but could not keep up with him.

"I tried to get in there a couple of times with him, but he could push me and his brother could push both of us," sophomore defensive end Doug Worthington said. "I can't wake up all the time like he does. He was really striving to be good and he knew that in his last couple years he wanted to make an impact and maybe go on to the next level and really just have a great career at Ohio State."

The results have been clearly evident both on and off the field. After weighing close to 340 pounds, Nader is now right around 300 pounds. In the first seven games of the season, he has recorded seven tackles and has emerged as a cog in the nation's top-ranked defense.

"One guy told me, ‘You don't have to get ready if you're always ready,' " Nader said. "I'm just trying to get trained up and do my best."

Helping his younger brother make the most of his abilities is no new task for Mazen, however. When the two were in high school, Mazen said he was basically Nader's drill sergeant, telling him what to do, when to do it and how to do it.

In a household where academics were prized above athletics, Younes Abdallah had forbidden his children to play sports. But a big moment came when Mazen stood up to their father and told him that Nader deserved his chance to play the game.

As a junior at Metairie (La.) Archbishop Rummell, Nader finally got his shot at playing football. It was not long before Younes began to see the value of his son's budding gridiron career.

"My father really got on board when he started seeing all these letters from colleges offering him free rides to school," Mazen said. "When he found out he didn't have to pay for college, that's when he got on board."

During his senior season – just his second year of playing football – Nader recorded 76 tackles, 11 sacks and two interceptions, earning a spot in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He eventually chose the Buckeyes over Tennessee, although the likes of Notre Dame and Florida State had also offered him.

As a redshirt freshman, Nader cracked the two-deep early in the season but found himself stuck behind the likes of Marcus Green, Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson.

With his prep success not translating into collegiate success, the stress of it all had started to get to Nader when his brother decided to intervene.

"From talking to him on the phone you could tell he just wasn't the same," Mazen said. "He was just down. Nader's a player with a lot of potential and a lot of ability, it's just that the mental aspect – a lot of people don't realize that a big part of football is the mentality, your confidence, your self-esteem. He had a low sense of self-esteem and confidence.

"When I went up there I was talking to him and I said, ‘Look, you've got two years of eligibility left and it's time to make the most of them. Get that confidence, that aura you used to have back when you were in high school.' "

Part of the problem was a difficult home situation that saw Nader experience two significant losses in the span of a few months. After his brother, Shadi, passed away, Nader's family had to flee their hometown of New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the city.

For a few weeks, Nader's parents and siblings all lived in his apartment in Columbus with a scant few possessions to call their own.

But now, with a solid spot on the defensive line, the first significant playing time of his career and the help of his brother, Nader has a new outlook on life – and those around him have taken note.

"He's a different guy," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "A year ago he wasn't that pleasant to be around and his personality wasn't probably as good as it is now, but he's a happy person now because of the work ethic and because of what he's done and having some success and confidence.

"He's got great personality now. He's probably as good as anybody in my room as far as livening it up a little bit and having some fun. He's a very intelligent young man."

It all began with the ringing of the alarm clock every morning at 5:15 a.m., an hour when some college students are still awake from the evening before – and his brother could not be more proud.

"You could totally see a difference in Nader on the sidelines," said Mazen, who was in attendance for OSU's season-opening victory over Youngstown State. "Before when he knew he wasn't playing, he was just on the sidelines just dull. At halftime during the game I saw Quinn Pitcock, and he was like, ‘Oh man, your brother is like a totally different person.' On the sidelines he's so energetic.

"If you just look at him on the sidelines, he's hootin' and hollerin' and encouraging all the other players. He's into the game and it's because he's finally, he's so excited that he's playing."

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