When Kareem Ali decided to enroll early at Temple last spring in the middle of his senior year at Timber Creek, he did so in part to give himself a chance to play as a true freshman in the fall.
But after the spring and his first training camp with the Owls, Ali felt he wasn’t quite ready to play to take the field. After meeting with coaches, the cornerback asked to take a redshirt season, a request that was granted.
Now back in his second spring, with added pounds of muscle and a renewed confidence, Ali feels he’ll be ready to contribute in 2016 the way he originally thought he might in 2015.
“Last year I came in fresh out of high school, wasn’t used to the game speed, wasn’t used to the practice intensity, wasn’t used to anything,” said Ali. “With a year under my belt, I’m much more confident, I know the plays, I know the calls. Everything is coming very slow like senior year of high school.
“I’ve gained weight. I was playing at 168. Now I’m 182. I’m much stronger and much faster.”
Ali said he wanted to believe he was ready going into last season but eventually decided that wasn’t the case.
“I talked to my dad about it, I think we talked all night,” said Ali. “The coaches didn’t want me to redshirt. They tried to talk me out of it, but I gave them the pros and cons. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me.”
Rhule said he has seen a more confident Ali this year.
“He was a little banged up last year too and there was a lot of pressure because we had a good team, it’s easier to play when you’re 2-10,” said Rhule. “I think for all the guys who redshirted it was good for them physically. Kareem is a much more confident kid, a bigger kid. He has the natural talent. He just needs the reps and experience.”
While Ali talked about the physical gains he made, the bigger strides might have come mentally.
“I can’t dwell on the last play,” said Ali. “If I had a bad play, it would be in my head all practice. As much as I said ‘OK, next play,’ I couldn’t let it go.
“I have to play with my confidence. I know what I’m doing. I just have to make the play.”
Ali has leaned on junior and fellow South Jersey player and defensive back Sean Chandler, who is one of the best defensive players and leaders on the team.
“We’re here all night, talking and looking at film,” said Ali.
Ali is ready for whatever role the Owls coaches have in mind for him this fall. And this time he’s sure of it.
“Everything’s slow for me now, just like it was my senior year of high school,” said Ali. “Anywhere they need me, nickel, both corners, I want to be a playmaker all over the field.”