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Draft Diamonds Exclusive: Family and Football Fuel Rocket Ismail Jr. for Success

Rocket Ismail Jr. is trying to write his own story this year in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Craig Forrestal of Draft Diamonds wrote this exclusive piece on Rocket JR!

By Craig Forrestal 

It started in middle school.

He can recall the day it happened; as if it had just occurred a few minutes earlier.

“Oh, you’re the Rocket’s son,” said the man operating the starting pistol at a local track meet.

The middle school athlete thought nothing of the comment and went about running his race. It was not his best showing; as he came in last place and again the man operating the starting pistol had something to say:

“How are you going to be Rocket Ismail Jr., and come in last place,” asked the man. 

You see, until this moment Raghib “Rocket” Ismail Jr. had never encountered any problems or backlash because of his famous name but Ismail Jr. decided that would be the last time he let that happen.

“My pops never pushed me to play. He always raised me to be a good person first and foremost,” stated Ismail Jr., and the most important lessons were respect and kindness. In fact, Ismail Jr. recalled how his father held him out of youth sports at times because he was always one of the smallest children growing up. Ismail Jr. noted his growth spurt didn’t come until he had already graduated high school.

After that middle school track meet Ismail Jr., called his uncle, Qadry Ismail aka The Missle. Ismail Jr. went into great detail about his uncle’s famous training regimens and how there was a custom workout plan created for him to improve on his self-proclaimed “disappointing” track performance.

“I was doing all kinds of things to get better, and I remember doing wall-sits for 5 minutes straight, each rep. My legs would feel the burn but it paid off,” is how Ismail Jr. recalls his first taste of proving people wrong. Those workouts resulted in Ismail Jr. winning the district track championship that year.

That fire and determination would serve Ismail Jr. well once again as he walked-on the football team at Texas Christian University. Ismail Jr. talked about his time at TCU and how it just didn’t come together as he had initially envisioned. Ismail Jr. recalled his time with TCU as a tremendous learning experience and was crucial in him bettering himself.

“After my time with TCU, I went out to Pennsylvania where my Uncle Sulaiman was staying at the time and just went through a cleansing. He really served as a spiritual guru for me. It was a raw food detox, mainly. There was also a lot of tea and sauerkraut. I consider this to be my athletic pilgrimage in a way,” recalled Ismail Jr.

When he finished his time in Pennsylvania, Ismail Jr., was ready to come for what was his not only in football but in life. Ismail Jr. was introduced to meditation and went into detail about how it was vital in balancing his life; allowing him the clarity to focus on his goals and block out all the distractions and negativity that once existed. 

The next part for Ismail Jr. was personal, and it was about turning negatives into positives. He enrolled back in college focusing on his grades and rebuilding his GPA but there was one more obstacle. There was a hold on his transcripts at TCU delaying his return to football. 

But that’s when Imani Ismail, the sister of Ismail Jr., stepped in to help. According to Ismail Jr., he owed TCU approximately $15,000 from his time as a student. Ismail Jr. didn’t know how he was going to cover the balance until his sister offered some help. Ismail Jr. mentioned how his family set aside some money for a college fund, and his sister offered money from her college fund to help him continue chasing his football dreams. Yes, that is right, Imani Ismail covered the bill at TCU for her brother, so he could keep chasing his football dreams. That is the type of love the Ismail family has for one another. This love extends all barriers because seeing their loved ones happy is what makes the Ismail family feel most complete.

Now that the transcript situation was handled, next was playing ball at a Junior College and that’s where the story takes an unexpected turn.

Just as it is all coming together for Ismail Jr., on the field and his goals are within reach he received the worst news imaginable. 

There are relationships that are deeper than friendship and a bond that is only describable as a sibling relationship. And that is what Ismail Jr. and Brian James Morgan had. Morgan and Ismail Jr. had a bond that really deepened in high school. Ismail Jr. refers to Morgan as his brother and when recalling his fondest memories with his brother you can hear the respect Ismail Jr. has for Morgan. Morgan, a member of the military, was doing everything he could to create a better life for his family and was tragically injured while visiting friends at Texas A&M Commerce. Morgan was wounded by a gunshot while attending a party and did not survive. 

Ismail Jr. took this moment and once again found the ability to move forward in a positive manner. After his transfer from Cisco, his junior college in Texas, to Wyoming, he decided to honor Morgan by wearing his number 17. 

Ismail Jr. talks about how there are subtle reminders of his brother all around but none more obvious than in a game against Wofford. With barely any time left on the clock and trailing by four, Ismail Jr. delivered for the Cowboys but this is where it becomes a sign from the universe. Ismail Jr. scored the game-winning touchdown to put them up 17-14 with 17 seconds left in the 4th quarter while in jersey number 17.

It is in a moment like that where Ismail Jr., says he is thankful for everything proceeding to recall the roller coaster of emotions he has handled throughout his college playing days. Ismail Jr. mentions the feelings of being extremely underrated in high school and barely being recruited, to the mindset of a walk-on, then to being the lead dog on the field and also dealing with the times of not playing as much as he wanted. 

It is in that whirlwind of emotions where Ismail Jr. talks about the growth and maturity he has seen in himself and says the defining moment was in a conversation with Wyoming Head Coach Craig Bohl. Ismail Jr. recalls a conversation where both sides were honest about how they were seeing things, and then they both came to a plan of action that, in the end, was the catalyst for a solid senior season. Ismail Jr. averaged over 15 yards per catch; doing a majority of his work on critical 3rd Down situations. On the 2019 season, Ismail Jr. logged 23 receptions for 355 yards and 3 total TDs. 

It is the future that gets Ismail Jr. excited. We discussed what it is like to grow up in and around the NFL given his father’s career. Ismail Jr. talked about how his father set the example of how the professional world works. Ismail Jr. talks about being around the likes of Jerry Jones and how it has helped him prepare for what is to come. Also, he feels all the ups and downs have prepared him for NFL success. He knows what it is to have to fight every day for everything; which is how he described the competitive nature of junior college football. 

It is his mindset that sets him apart from others, as he is willing to fight harder and longer than others. Ismail Jr. acknowledges there were times of self-doubt, but it was the ways he found to motivate himself that created a don’t give up attitude. Ismail Jr. vividly recalls playing highlight films on YouTube for background noise while handling his academic responsibilities. 

And it is in those moments where Ismail Jr. has found peace. 

When asked about the thoughts of his prospective NFL career Ismail Jr. replied:

“With everything I have gone through it has given me the mindset to know I can overcome any obstacles in my way because my path has set me up to be resilient. I feel that all those emotions I experienced were to set me up for something greater and I believe that is going to be in the NFL. The work and the learning never stops.”

There is something to be said about bloodlines in the NFL and athletes that are the children of professional athletes in other sports. These athletes grow up differently. Whether it is stories of Patrick Mahomes taking ground balls at Yankee Stadium or Rocket Ismail Jr. meeting Jerry Jones at a young age those moments create a “no stage is too big” approach to sports. There is no replacement for growing up in a professional football environment because for many the toughest transition is life as a professional, but for Ismail Jr. it is natural. He has done it his whole life, and for that reason, I believe Ismail Jr. will make an NFL roster. He has the athletic profile of an NFL WR, and he is coming in with a veteran savvy approach that will be popular in the locker room with his infectious positive energy.

NFL Draft Diamonds was created to assist the underdogs playing the sport. We call them diamonds in the rough. My name is Damond Talbot, I have worked extremely hard to help hundreds of small school players over the past several years, and will continue my mission. We have several contributors on this site, and if they contribute their name and contact will be in the piece above. You can email me at nfldraftdiamonds@gmail.com

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