Defensive lineman will take his game to Illinois

Austen E. Marshell

tandout Bakersfield College defensive lineman Ismail Abdunafi has signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Illinois for the 2005-06 season.

National signing day was Feb. 2, and Abdunafi was very sure of his decision.

Although the University of Washington sent four coaches to see him a few days prior, Abdunafi had his heart set on the Illinois Fighting Illini and newly hired head coach Ron Zook.

“I wanted to play in the Big Ten,” he said, referring to the conference in which Illinois plays. “That’s what I grew up on, that’s all I know.”

At 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds, Abdunafi is a defensive lineman with strength, quickness and the intensity to play the game at an extremely high level of competition and the ability to, “get in where you fit in” as a jack-of-all-trades.

“I’m competitive,” he said. “Anywhere I go, I’m versatile. I can play anywhere on that D-line: End [defensive], tackle, nose, anywhere, I just want to play.”

BC football coach Jeff Chudy said Abdunafi is one of the top three players he has ever coached.

“He is really talented, plays with lots of emotion and has great athleticism,” said Chudy.

Although Chudy believes Abdunafi can work on his upper body strength, the defensive lineman bench presses 420 pounds. His lower body strength and quickness are what make him a standout, he said.

A squat of 600 pounds-plus and a 40-yard dash time of 4.8 seconds separate him from other players of his size. His pass rush is ferocious. He recorded a school record 15 sacks this past season, along with 70 tackles and 12 quarterback pressures.

“He has great foot speed and agility,” said Chudy.

“I like the swat and swim move… I like to fake…” said Abdunafi, who then paused. It was obvious he doesn’t want his secret to success among the competition.

Abdunafi had many choices when it came to choosing to further his collegiate career.

He chose Illinois over the University of Washington, which, like Illinois, has a newly hired head coach in Tyrone Willingham, formerly of Notre Dame. Texas Tech also failed to meet Abdunafi’s interest in his journey to the Division I level.

Being partial to Illinois and the Big Ten Conference comes from his New Jersey roots, which aren’t too far from the make-up of the conference schools. “I love the Big Ten, it’s just something about it, I don’t know,” he said.

Abdunafi will also be joining a teammate from high school in Illinois running back E.B. Hasley, who like Abdunafi, attended Elizabeth High School in New Jersey.

Aspirations of playing pro-football are among his many goals, including graduating from Illinois.

“I definitely think I have a chance to go pro,” he said. “As long as I stay healthy, keep doing everything right, my school, working out, everything, but mainly staying healthy, and focused … I have to stay focused.”

Chudy also said, “Ismail has a lot of challenges ahead of himself, he just has to work hard and continue getting better. He’ll be fine.”

Setting records, competing at a high level, and developing better techniques are a few of the things Abdunafi will take from BC to the next level. Staying focused, healthy and intense are only a few of the key ingredients he feels are needed to compete and succeed at Illinois.