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Ismail tries to catch on with Wyoming

July 31, 2018

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Raghib “Rocket” Ismail Jr. already shares a name with his father, a former NFL receiver/returner and a Heisman runner-up at Notre Dame.

“My mom just says it a certain way and I’ll know that she’s talking to me or my pops,” Ismail Jr. said. “That’s just how it works.”

He hopes, as do Wyoming fans, that he can share some of his father’s on-field success as well.

“My mom told me one day, it was the first kick return I ever took back, and she came up to me with tears in her eyes,” said Ismail Jr., who signed with Wyoming in February. “She said, ‘You look just like your daddy.’

“I guess, obviously, the man runs a 4.0, 4.1, so I’m trying to work my way up to that. But he always tells me every day that I’m two times better of a receiver than he was. Regardless if that’s the truth or not, it helps boost my confidence and I go out on the field expecting to do well. No fear in my heart. Ready to play.”

Ismail was a late addition to Wyoming’s 2018 signing class and its only junior-college transfer. He committed to TCU out of high school but never played for the Horned Frogs.

“It was just a lack of focus on my end,” Ismail told the Casper Star-Tribune. “My grades weren’t good. I wasn’t in my playbook like I should have been, and I ended up paying for it. I was ineligible, so when it came time to, ‘Hey, coach, can I get a scholarship?’ They’re like, ‘Bruh, you can’t even play on the field this year.’ Eventually, I ended up leaving and taking a year off, getting my grades back up, JUCO, and now here I am.”

Ismail spent one season playing for Cisco (Texas) College, where he caught 48 passes for 434 yards and four touchdowns.

“JUCO, it’s a mental grind,” he said. “You wake up every day like forcing yourself to go to class, forcing yourself to go to practice, forcing yourself. Because it’s so easy to quit.”

After receiving his associate’s degree, Ismail received an offer from Northern Colorado. He was excited but told the Bears he would take a week before signing his national letter of intent. Six days in, Wyoming receivers coach Mike Grant asked Ismail if he had signed yet. He hadn’t.

“Came out on a visit, loved it here,” said Ismail, a junior. “The facilities were beautiful, the academic support was beautiful, everything. Plus, they’re building a program, obviously, coming off the Josh Allen era and everything like that. So I figured this would be the right place to be.”

At 6-feet, 180 pounds, Ismail has been positioned at slot back so far at Wyoming. He has been limited with a ligament injury in his hand but said he still is able to catch and expects to be fully cleared Thursday.

“Obviously quick, obviously fast, good hands,” Ismail said of what he brings to Wyoming’s receiving corps. “A leader. I like to lead with my actions. So, regardless of if it’s a big block or a big catch, whatever I need to do on the field, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Ismail also hopes to get a chance at kick returning, something his father did to the tune of five touchdowns with the Fighting Irish.

“The name recognition is fine, but what we see is what he’s doing on the grass,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said of Ismail Jr. “He’s got great explosion, really good quickness. I think he’s got a good understanding of football, and he’s competitive. So as one of the inside receivers, he’s lightning quick, and he’s got really good concentration.”

Ismail doesn’t mind the bell his name is sure to ring with any casual college football fan.

“Obviously, I want to make a name for myself,” he said, “but I feel like it would be dumb to shy away from a name like that, just because it opens so many doors. It makes people look at me a certain way. It gives people a higher expectation, what they expect from me in terms of my ability, in terms of the way I act in the community, just who I am as a person. It’s been a real help for me.”

Now, he has two years to leave his own college football legacy.

“I have more of an appreciation for things now,” he said. “I don’t take my grades for granted at all. I’m always in my playbook as much as I can be, asking questions and making sure that I’m a good role model in the community, making sure that I represent the university, my last name and everybody else that’s associated with me.”

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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