For Rocket Ismail, Jr., It Was More than a TD, It Was Testimony to Life
The emotions of the moment overwhelmed Wyoming junior wide receiver Rahib "Rocket” Ismail, Jr.
In the closing seconds of last weekend’s game against Wofford, Rocket, a nickname he shares with his father, caught what proved to be the game-winning touchdown pass.
He slapped hands with teammates, hugged, jumped, smiles.
And then, off on the sideline, he laid down, stared at the sky and the personal magnitude of the moment sank in.
“I wear No. 17 to honor a friend of mine back home, who passed away in 2016,” he said. “I had told myself that the first touchdown I would score would be in honor of him. I pointed to the sky and said, `Hey, my man, I did it.’
“It was so much that happened. It was not only the game-winning touchdown, but there were 17 seconds left on the clock. We won the game 17-14. I wear No. 17. No. 17 is so significant. It was an emotional moment.”
It was a sign of arrival for Ismail, who is still troubled by the death of Brian James Morgan, who was shot to death during a party in the Dallas area, and who had his own personal challenges to conquer before winding up in Laramie, playing college football, living a dream he had ever since he was a little kid, watching his father play for Notre Dame, in the CFL and then the NFL.
As Ismail put it in the post-game media session,
“With everything I have been through to get here. ...”
Like. . .
“Just the events that transpired, prior to me getting a call from (receivers) Coach (Mike) Grant saying, `We want to offer you.’”
There was the death of Morgan, but more.
He had been recruited by several schools out of high school, including North Texas, where Grant was on the staff, and Nevada. He decided to stay near home, and went to TCU, but his grades weren’t good enough for him to play, much less be offered a scholarship.
“It was just a lack of focus on my end,” Ismail said. “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, ‘Bro, 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, going to JUCO, and now here I am.”
He came close to quitting three years ago, however.
“I’ll never forget, I was at my little brother’s game and I was so upset,” he said. “I didn’t get any offers out of (junior college). I had to take a hard, hard biology class that I didn’t even know I was going to pass. I’m at my little brother’s game and all the emotion that built up got released. I had to go outside (the stadium) and cool off.
“I said, `Mom, I don’t want to play football anymore. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.’ Then, I stuck it out, took one thing at a time. I finished my class. I went to (Cisco Junior College). We didn’t win a game. I got my Associates Degree and everything went up from there.”
Out of junior college, the one offer he initially had came from Northern Colorado.
“I went on a visit and was extremely grateful,” said Ismail.
He, however, wasn’t ready to say yes.
“I told them, `I’ll have my decision in seven days,’” he said. “If nothing happened in seven days I was going to commit. Then, on Day 6, coach Grant called. They said they wanted me to visit and they were offering. … They said they had been looking at me for a while. … The timing. … I had prayed about it, and if nothing happened in those seven days, I was going to Northern Colorado.”
Something did happen.
He got that chance to carry on the family tradition at Wyoming – a tradition created by his father, which Ismail embraces.
“When I was little I remember watching my dad play for the (Dallas) Cowboys, on front of all those people,” he said. “At first, I was like, `Dang, how do you perform with all those people watching you?’ Then I was like, `Okay. You gotta love what you do.’
“Once I developed a love for the game, I started to love big moments. I want to be the one, succeed or not, that wins the game. I want to be the one everybody is watching.”
Last Saturday, a War Memorial Stadium, he was that guy. And he succeeded.
And while his teammates and the crowd celebrated, he had that moment on the sidelined that he shared with his childhood buddy, Brian James Morgan.
“It was all those things you would think were written in a script, and to have it happen in front of my eyes, to me,” he said. “It was an emotional time. It meant so much.”