When Kareem Ali arrived on Main Campus in January, the site was familiar to the freshman defensive back.
After all, Ali has been around Temple since he was a baby.
His mother, Tasha, who competed for the women’s track & field team 1993–97 gave birth to Ali in July 1996. His father, Kareem Ali Sr., played football from 1993–98 and introduced Ali to the team.
Now Ali, who graduated Timber Creek High School early to participate in spring practice, will look to help improve a secondary that returns all four starters.
“He is a young man and he is so humble,” redshirt-junior linebacker Avery Williams said. “He’ll come to me and say ‘Avery what do I have to do’ and he’ll ask me one thousand questions. You can tell he wants to get on the field early and he has guys like Tavon [Young] and Sean [Chandler] to keep pushing him and he can push Tavon and [Chandler].”
Ali has been on campus for nearly seven months and has found himself often practicing with the first-team defense in the spring.
“You can tell he knows how things work,” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “All these freshmen are still learning how things are done. Kareem really understands it. He really gets it and he’s really bought it and we are excited.”
With Ali in the fold at defensive back, he joins returning starters Young, a senior, and Chandler, a sophomore. Last season, Young led the team with four interceptions and nine pass breakups. Chandler was the only freshman to start for the Owls last season and his 65 total tackles were the most among defensive backs.
“What [Sean Chandler] did coming in as a freshman was amazing,” Young said. “I don’t think that’s normal. I think we make a good duo. He knows a lot and I know a lot and we just talk to each other. We’re hard on each other and especially the other guys in our secondary. I think everybody’s going to be good this year, I think we’re going to be a better overall secondary.”
Joining Young and Chandler in the secondary at the safety position are redshirt-seniors Will Hayes and Boye Aromire and senior Alex Wells.
The trio combined for 33 games played last season and shared playing time depending on the situation.
“We feel really good about our three seniors,” Coach Matt Rhule said of the safety position. “[Defensive coordinator Phil Snow] has done a good job. He kind of rotates those guys throughout the game to keep them fresh so we always have one. Then we did some three safety stuff in our odd packages last year where they all got on the field at the same time.”
As a whole, the defensive backfield, which returns seven players — five of which are seniors — allowed 186.9 yards passing per game and 11.25 yards per passing completion per game last season, which ranked 13th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“Temple was always a team where we always had talent,” Young said. “We didn’t always do what we were supposed to do. I feel like now that since our performance last year on defense, I feel like we’re starting to creep up on a lot of people and a lot of people are able to see what we can do.”
The Owls’ secondary also tallied eight of the team’s 11 interceptions and forced seven of the team’s 19 forced fumbles, dimensions the Owls will look to improve on in 2015.
“The whole last year during spring ball and camp, we focused on turnovers, getting the ball, and that’s what changes the game around,” Young said. “Big plays just change the game and slow the offense’s momentum down, so we can get the momentum and then we just take over from there. That was a main focus that our coaching staff came up with us and we worked on it as a team during practice.”
Michael Guise can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Michael_Guise