Behind the Facemask: Kemal Ishmael

Frank Kleha: As you were scoring your first NFL touchdown last week on a pick-six, you looked like you were undecided about how you were going to celebrate once you got there. What happened?

Kemal Ishmael: I was kind of debating whether I should run through the end zone or dive. But I was somewhere in between of just diving in there or not. My teammates keep getting on me about how I had no air time. I was stuck in between what to do; one leg said jump, and the other said just run (laughing).

FK:  When was the last time you scored a defensive touchdown?  

KI: I haven't scored since I was a junior or senior in high school and it was the same thing, a pick-six.

FK: I understand one of the things you enjoy the most to get away from football is jumping on a dirt bike?

KI: I've always liked doing it, but I didn't really get into it until I came up here because of Bobby (Robert McClain). He's a big dirt bike guy and he taught me how to really ride a dirt bike, shifting gears and all that stuff. Since then I've taken off with it and I fell in love with it.

FK: Do you wear all the gear?

KI: Yes, I wear it all; the helmet, neck brace, gloves, long sleeve shirts that have pads so when you fall you don't get cut up, knee pads and big lock boots.

FK: I heard you are very proud of where and how you grew up in Miami (Florida).

KI: Yes, I take pride in being from there. A lot people don't make it out of there. Football was a way out for me and my friends. There are a lot of guys that come from Miami that when we go off to college and we end up seeing each other in the league, you are just happy to see them. (Minnesota Vikings quarterback) Teddy Bridgewater is an example. I'm going to see him this weekend and Josh Robertson, who also plays for the Vikings. It's just cool when you see all of these guys come out of there; it's hard to make it out.

FK: How well do you know Teddy?

KI: I went to North Miami Beach Senior High School and I played him in high school and I've met him a couple of times.

FK: So you know something about Bridgewater's game that might help you slow him down in his first NFL start this weekend?

KI: Yeah, I'm hoping to make a play on him. (With a coy smile)

FK: Who is your favorite athlete in another sport?

KI: Allen Iverson. He's electrifying. I grew up and everybody was about (Michael) Jordan, but I really like Iverson. He just did it all. He was amazing to me.

FK: So were you a big NBA fan growing up?

KI: Somewhat, it was my first sport but I transitioned into football.

FK: What were your favorite football teams as a youth, the Miami Dolphins?

KI: No, I never liked the Dolphins. I was a San Francisco fan in elementary school but then I turned into a big Atlanta Falcons fan.

FK:  Are you sure you're not just saying that because you are doing this interview? How did you become a Falcons fan, especially being from Florida?

KI: I promise I was. The Madden game started it all. I liked the whole 'Dirty Bird' thing. And then guys like Alge Crumpler, Peerless Price and Ray Buchanan were guys that I loved to watch play.

FK: What was it like being drafted by a team that you grew up being such a big fan?

KI: I was so excited and grateful for the opportunity to be drafted by my favorite team. It's also humbling at the same time.

FK: What is your best sports memory growing up?

KI: I was playing against Norland City High School during my junior year and I caught a pass that we called 'bomb.' I was playing wide receiver and it was a play-action, go route, and I ended up catching a one-handed pass for about a 60-yard touchdown with my best friend covering me. I've got a video of it, too, on my phone.

FK: What other positions did you play in high school?

KI: I played quarterback, cornerback, safety, punt returner and kick returner.

FK: What do you like to do to unwind at home after practice?  

KI: I play video games and watch cartoons. I don't necessarily play Madden so much anymore because I like doing stuff I can't do in real life. I play football all the time and I can play basketball whenever I want. I like Skyrim the best. It's a game with dudes with swords and wizards and that kind of stuff.

FK: What kind of cartoons do you watch?

KI: I watch Family Guy and South Park.

FK: What fictional character do you wish was real?

KI: Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z on Cartoon Network. I was a huge fan growing up and I've got him tattooed on my arms. First, he was an evil dude, but then he turned into a good guy and he wanted to be the strongest and most powerful. But he never could reach that level although he trained every single day and worked his tail off.

FK: What are some of your favorite shows you like to watch?

KI:Wayan Brothers and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I like Will Smith.

FK: What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?

KI: I'm an Anime fan. They are Japanese cartoons that you have to read at the bottom (of the TV screen) for translation. I kinda like that stuff. When I have free time I just pop one in at home. They are not American cartoons like Family Guy where there are no storylines it's just funny. Anime is a process that has a story to it you can follow and it has some meaning behind it.

FK: If you weren't playing football what would you be doing today?

KI: I would be running a hotel. I went to Central Florida which is the number one tourist spot so I would have started in Orlando and worked my way up (through the hotel chain). My major in college was hospitality.

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