The Atlanta Falcons were very clear in the beginning of the season that they wanted to be identified as a physically-tough football team in all three phases in 2014. The coaching staff didn't have to look far to find the epitome of tough, right in the team's own secondary, S William Moore, who is an outspoken leader on defense.
Following his shoulder injury in Week 4, sidelining him for at least eight weeks, the team again didn't search long before finding another physically-imposing defender to insert into the starting lineup, second-year S Kemal Ishmael.
One of three seventh-round picks (243rd overall) by the Falcons in the 2013 NFL Draft, Ishmael has come a long way from the four games he played in, during his rookie campaign, primarily on special teams, recording one-solo tackle. Despite not seeing a lot of game action in 2013, the raging fire inside of the former Central Florida star burned for the next opportunity that may come to showcase his many talents.
"With that year experience, I knew what I had to get done: bigger, faster, stronger," Ishmael said. "I knew I had to get my body right and change certain things as far as weight. I wanted to increase my agility and my eating habits and just get my body right, so I could come back here and perform at the level they want me to."
Ishmael's uncontainable passion to succeed was birthed during his time as an All-Dade County performer at North Miami Beach High School, coached by Jeff Bertani, who instilled a hard-nosed, tireless work ethic into the current Falcons safety, via practices labeled "Hell Fridays," which included weight sessions, followed by running drills and back to the weights.
Those sweat-induced workouts gave Ishmael the confidence and abilities to be the physical player the team needs to help fill the void of Moore's absence.
Ishmael's game-changing plays, exemplified by his pick-six return against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3, are just glimpses of why he plays fearless and has earned the praise of Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who called him the most-improved player on the team from a year ago.
"You're not nervous or scared," Ishmael said of his mindset as a starter. "You just go out there — it's part of what you do now. From the mental aspect of it, it's nothing. No second thoughts — just go and hit."