Liberty player stays true to team, religion

With the temperatures hitting some of their highest in the area during the months of July and August (normally), hydration is of the top priorities to players and coaches in every sport, but especially in football.

Weight-lifting, conditioning, two-a-day practices all take a lot out of the athletes, and they’ll want plenty of water to cool off and replenish that which they lost in sweat.

While most athletes can do this, Liberty’s Abdel Yusuf must abstain for much of these preseason workouts. Like other Muslims around the world, he observes the holy month of Ramadan.

Considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam, Muslims fast during the days in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. No drinking and no eating anything, among other acts, from sunrise to sunset. For Yusuf, that coincides with the beginning of the football season, meaning he cannot eat and drink water while exercising.

Yusuf didn’t miss any team activity while observing the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, and new Liberty coach Kevin Cylar noticed. The 1991 East graduate named Yusuf as one of the team’s captains – the only junior to earn the honor.

“We definitely respect what he does,” Cylar said. “We’re proud of him for staying disciplined and doing what he has to do and sticking with our commitment over here, too. That’s one of the main reasons I named him a captain because of the sacrifices that he’s made for this football team.”

Although his coaches went to great lengths to try and make practices easier for him during this time, Yusuf goes to great lengths to not use the lack of nutrients during the day as a crux.

The junior tackle said the coaches were willing to give him extra pauses, but he said dealing with the tougher conditions will help his conditioning and show his teammates they mean a lot.

“Even though I’m fasting, I still don’t want to show that I’m weak,” Yusuf said. “I always try to go 100 percent even if I’m dying with no water and food. Coaches give me a break when I need it, but I try not to get the break because I feel like this will help me out later on when I can drink water and I can eat.”

Yusuf has moments of weakness, too. When these times occur, he receives aid from his teammates.

“My teammates really help me out,” Yusuf said. “They depend on me, and I depend on them. Whenever I’m feeling down, they’ll pick me back up.”

After not missing a single day of practice, the player who moved from Greenville, N.C. before his freshman season will not participate in today’s practice because he will be celebrating Eid. Eid is Islam’s biggest holiday, marking the end of Ramadan and the month of fasting. Yusuf said he plans to take full advantage of the lack of restrictions.

“I was talking about it all day in practice,” Yusuf said. “I’m so happy that I can eat (during the day) and drink water.”

Following a month of dedication on and off the field, the man deserves the praise and the right to eat when he wants.