Rahway football team brings heavy hearts to Friday game after teammate’s death

Ali Muhammad is remembered today not as Rahway’s backup center, but as the scouting team’s invaluable starter at that position in every practice.

He made the team’s front-row defensive linemen better by putting everything on every play and assigning screens during practice drills. Ali never complained about his lack of playing time in college games, though at times he may have heard a bit of complaint from starting teammates who were forced to put up with the stoic commitment he brought to the task.

“He played hard all the time. He was the center of our opponent’s scouting team and he did everything you asked him to do to improve the team. And he loved being a part of that,” Rahway’s head coach Brian Russo said.

The Indians will remember Ali’s dependable work-rate as well as his calm, unassuming demeanor off the field when they arrive in Jersey City tonight (Friday) for a 7 pm game against Lincoln.

Ali Muhammad apparently died in his sleep sometime Thursday morning at his home. His father, Percy Lamont Brown, found his 17-year-old son dead when he was trying to wake him up to go to school. Details about a service have not yet been announced.

“When you hear something like this, it’s just devastating. I couldn’t imagine being in that father’s shoes right now,” Russo said. “It’s something you never think you’re going to experience.”

This is the sad continuation of a family tragedy that began when Ali’s mother died in July 2021.

“I’m sure that took a toll on him, although you never heard him complain about anything,” Rahway’s offensive coordinator Mike Kuchar said. “You didn’t really hear much from him in the locker room. He was a quiet boy, but very loved. I think a lot of the other kids took care of him because they knew about his situation.”

See also  Tomorrow's Top 25 Today: Oklahoma tops Clemson as Penn State and Oregon rise in college football rankings

Ali, who would have turned 18 next month, was hard-working at practice Wednesday and showed no signs of injury or discomfort, according to Russo and Kuchar. Ali was a member of the football team for four years and also played on Rahway’s JV baseball team.

“Wednesday was offensive practice, so Ali didn’t do a lot of reps that day, but he was fine,” Kuchar said. “Usually he gets more reps in defensive practice because he’s the scouting center.”

A position that not only made Ali important. Giving everything in that capacity is priceless.

“Those are the children you are trusting. Not only to prepare for next week’s opponent, but also to make sure there’s a surge of kids that can and have the depth that you have,” Kuchar said. “If our center fell, he is next. I always told him that he was one play away from playing the whole game.”

Ali saw limited varsity defense time last year as a junior (Rahway went 4-5), but did not play last Friday in the Indians’ 21-20 win over Linden. However, several defensive linemen, such as Jalen Barnes and Donea Fish, played integral roles in the win. They were well prepared.

“Ali was minding his own business and he liked to play football. He was always willing to come out and help. And a very nice guy who was very attached to a lot of the other players on the team. The guys are hurt,” Russo said.

With Friday’s game against Lincoln just one night away, Russo and his staff allowed Ali’s teammates to make the decision to play or postpone. Thursday’s practice was cancelled, then the team reconvened later that night for a traditional team dinner.

See also  Duke in the NBA: Williamson excels in return, Banchero continues elite rookie campaign

“I told them: ‘This is bigger than football; we will let you decide. All the older guys said they wanted to go out and play,” Russo said.

“This makes you realize that there are many more important things than football,” he said. “You make it a game where winning or losing is life or death. It is not. At the end of the day, it’s a football game.”

The NJ High School sports newsletter now appears in mailboxes 5 days a week. Sign up now to be among the first to get all the boys and girls sports you care about delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. To add your name, Click here.

Thank you for trusting us to provide you with the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a subscription.

Mike Kinney can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeKinneyHS.

Leave a Comment