In the locker room, before he takes the football field on Friday nights, Ali Mohamed takes the prayer beads off of his neck.
Then, with the beads in his hands, he sits, head bowed, and prays.
He prays that his dad will give him strength, keep him healthy, and help him find the end zone for Glendale Apollo High School. Since his sophomore year, this has been the senior running back’s fall Friday night ritual.
He knows his dad looks after him, puts him in places he needs to be, without physically being there anymore.
It was during the spring of his freshman year that Mohamed was called to the principal’s office, the sight of his hysterical sister etched in memory, being told that his dad had died.
“I hear screaming,” Mohamed said. “I’m like, ‘What is happening?’ My older brother said he died. I had no emotion. I was just standing there. Everything was racing through my head.”
Mohamed said his dad, Adlan, who was 48, had just returned from a month-long hospital stay. He had come home feeling better before suddenly going downhill. His dad felt cold. Ali heated up a blanket in the dryer and put it on him. Paramedics were called.
Mohamed said his dad was found to have cancer.
“I just thought it was an infection or something,” Mohamed said. “He never smoked, he always took care of himself. I was so mad. I didn’t want to go to doctors after that.”
Ali’s mother, Hawa Khamis, and father were refugees from Sudan. Ali has four brothers and two sisters. Since their father’s death, without their mother working and speaking little English, they’ve had to find ways to survive. Benefits help.
After games on Friday night, Ali works at McDonald’s on Saturdays and Sundays.
“We know how to manage the money,” Ali said.