Monday, April 22, 2013

Center of Attention: Hussam Ouri

Every offensive football play begins with the snap of a ball. It is often overlooked by many since most everyone only cares about what happens after the ball is snapped. Offensive lineman don’t get the love like quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers do- but that doesn’t mean  Shepherd center Hussam Ouri is not an integral part of the offense.

From the moment when the ball is exchanged between center and quarterback  to when the center has to pop back up and confront the defense,  there is a lot that comes Ouri’s way. It’s all about timing, technique and adjustments. He’s used to adjustments.

Hussam was born in Brazil and lived there to the age of six. Then his parents, Adib and Iraquia decided to move the family to the United States.

“It was a tough adjustment. I was fluent in Portugese and it took me a year and a half to learn English. Even then, I still didn’t completely understand all the slang that is used. I had  completed first grade and had to re-do it when I got to the States,” said Hussam.

Adib and Iraquia met through working together in Brazil and were thinking big picture when it came to the move.

“They knew there was more opportunity here for me and my brother. I didn’t see it that way at first, but now I do.”

Nowadays the two work together in a  convenient store  and deli and are co-owners in their other son’s steam cleaning business. It’s that undying work ethic that helps motivate and inspire Hussam.

“Their  will to support and provide for me and my brother is something I do not take for granted. They are my role models and I appreciate everything they have ever done for me.”

Growing up, Ouri enjoyed playing basketball and watching it. He’s a 76ers fan and became mesmerized by the dazzling play of former guard Allen Iverson. It was around the same time the Dallas Cowboys were THE team to beat in the NFL, and the young kid from Brazil couldn’t help but become enamored with them.

“My mom’s friend who helped us adjust to the culture shock was a big Cowboys fan.  She had jerseys and plaques and everything. It rubbed off on me. I loved watching Emmitt Smith take over the game.”

Hussam’s earliest memories from actually watching games was  when the Rams faced the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. While he enjoyed watching football, he didn’t begin playing until his freshman year in high school at Broadneck.

“I played basketball before that and loved it. With football, I had no idea what to expect. I struggled at first because the conditioning was very hard. My coach, Rob Harris, always told me I could be really good if I could stay on the field and not tire out so quickly.”

His experience at Broadneck was  very diverse. Along with playing defensive tackle, defensive end, backup right tackle, right guard and center, Hussam played multiple sports in the offseason such as track and shot put and discus.

“It gave me something to do in the winter and spring and kept me in shape. It helped me become better in football- more conditioned and agile.”

The sudden realization at his own potential prompted Ouri to go to numerous combines and football camps. During the summer from his junior into senior year at Broadneck saw his life outside the game diminish due to his busy schedule.

“My personal life was essentially non-existent. I did about eight or nine combines that summer,” Hussam said.

During his senior season, he started at both center and  defensive end.

“I loved defense  and just being on the field at all times. But after games, I just wanted to die because I was so tired and exhausted. It was all worth it, though.”

The double duty paid off. The Naval Academy offered him a full scholarship, while Division 1-AA schools such as Delaware, New Hampshire and Towson all offered partial scholarships.

One of Ouri’s teammates at Broadneck was  Va’a Niumatalolo. Niumatalolo now plays for Brigham Young University.  His father, Ken, is the coach of the Naval Academy football team.

“The offer was a result of the work I put in, but my final decision was a last minute thing. I never knew where I wanted to go because during the recruiting process there are so many lies that it’s hard to find the truth.”

Hussam only visited Shepherd once, but the first time was the charm. He met with the coaches and they made him an offer. The stress-free nature of it was a huge plus for him.

“To play football on a scholarship here as well as be close to home and be part of a winning program  all made the decision that much easier,” he said.

After his work on both offense and defense at Broadneck, the transition to being at Shepherd and being a full-time center was not easy.

“In college, you are limited with how much time you can practice. Scheduling and organizing everything is key to doing well. I did not do that at first. I would procrastinate a lot and before I knew it, it was eleven o’clock at night and I hadn’t started my homework yet.”

On the field, Hussam credits coaches Ernie McCook and Jeremy Overfelt with  his positive strides as a player.

“I learned about technique and form from Coach McCook. From Coach Overfelt I learned how to get stronger while still being agile. He runs and lifts with us and I really respect him for it because he puts in work.”

Outside of his hectic football schedule, Ouri enjoys  playing pick-up basketball, paintball, listening to music, grilling outside, video games, watching Netflix and messing around with computers. If you give him a new piece of technology, Hussam will be all over it and master it if given the time. He even has been known to build computers, too. During the offseason conditioning,  all of these activities come in second to one: sleep.

“There’s a two week period during winter conditioning  where we run so much and it really wears you down. You probably won’t see me on campus much because I try and rest up as much as possible afterwards.”

It takes a lot of desire and self motivation to keep at it, whether it is academics or school. Ouri admits former NFL cornerback Eric Thomas is one source of motivation for him. Thomas wrote a book titled The Secret to Success. In it you see the transformation from homeless high school dropout to his rise as a husband, father, CEO, educator and motivational speaker.

During Hussam’s freshman season, the Rams won the WVIAC Championship and were one of the final four teams left in the playoffs, losing to Delta State. Back then he was just a practice squad player. After winning the WVIAC again this past season, it  takes on a whole new feeling since he was on the field for it.

“It was great because it showed our hard work from the dog days of the summer in August until that point,” he said.

This season the team moves to the brand new Mountain East Conference. With the  move comes goals.

“I want us to win the conference championship  again and get to the playoffs again and go deeper. I want to finish up my academics strong so I don’t have to worry about that part  while also improving as a player.”

The evolution from young  practice squad player to established veteran is not lost on the young man from Annapolis.

“Being one of the veterans on the team means having a good work ethic and not being afraid to get in someone’s face if they mess up. I like to watch them improve, too. It feels like just yesterday I was  just finding my way at Shepherd. Now that I’m at this point, I like being a leader.”

Being a leader means helping the morale of the team stay positive  at all times and part of that is the chemistry of a team and how they get along. With the Rams, there aren’t any chemistry issues as all the players, regardless of position, hang out with each other.

“You’ll see running backs hanging with kickers, and quarterbacks with defensive lineman. We just get along and we aren’t clique-ish.”

Hussam is studying Fitness and Exercise Science, and is specifically looking into sports medicine as a career in physical therapy. He’s not totally sure of what path life will take him down, but like he has before on and off the field, I have a feeling he’ll make the transition in anything he does just fine.

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