Al-Shaair earns spe­cial tribute on Se­nior Night

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By David Furones South Flor­ida Sun Sen­tinel

BOCA RA­TON — When Flor­ida At­lantic be­gan to go down the nu­mer­i­cal ros­ter to honor its se­niors ahead of the Owls’ kick­off for Se­nior Night, it could’ve been con­fused for a glar­ing omis­sion by be­gin­ning with No. 3, cor­ner­back Shel­ton Lewis.

No. 2, line­backer Azeez Al-Shaair, is FAU’s all-time lead­ing tack­ler and had his col­lege ca­reer cut short ear­lier this sea­son when he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in an Oc­to­ber prac­tice ahead of the Owls’ trip to Mar­shall.

Don’t worry. Al-Shaair wasn’t for­got­ten on Satur­day at FAU Sta­dium. He was the grand fi­nale.

Al­though Al-Shaair was un­able to at­tend Se­nior Night fes­tiv­i­ties as he re­habs the knee, his fi­ancée, Ya­haira Onofre, was there to rep­re­sent him on the field. She (and he) re­ceived a sig­nif­i­cant ova­tion when Al-Shaair’s name was an­nounced. The FAU foot­ball Twit­ter ac­count re­leased a video ahead of the game against Con­fer­ence USA foe Char­lotte with a mes­sage from Al-Shaair.

While Al-Shaair is done play­ing col­lege foot­ball, he still has his NFL hopes ahead of him. He re­cently did an in­ter­view with Fox Sports Flor­ida that aired this week and dis­cussed that no­tion and the fact that re­turn­ing for a se­nior sea­son at FAU al­lowed him to com­plete his de­gree.

“I know I’m go­ing to get through it. I know I’m a tough per­son, I’m go­ing to bat­tle back and get back to where I want to be,” AlShaair said. “I guess it’s know­ing the path that you wanted to take and the road that you wanted to take to get to where you wanted to be, and now, ob­vi­ously, know­ing what path I’m go­ing to have to take.

“It’s pretty much a sym­bol­ism of my whole life — just be­ing tough and be­ing hard-fought. From that as­pect of it, it wasn’t hard for me to pick my head up and get back to work.”

Al-Shaair went in-depth on what he ex­pe­ri­enced as he in­jured his knee.

“When it first hap­pened, I kind of knew it hap­pened be­cause I felt the same feel­ing in my el­bow last year when I hurt my el­bow — and just that same kind of pop sound,” Al-Shaair said. “In­stantly, when I heard it, I was just at a loss for words al­most.

“I’d be sit­ting down, just start cry­ing. I was think­ing about so many dif­fer­ent things — think­ing about my fam­ily, think­ing about my team, think­ing about my­self, my fu­ture and ev­ery­thing like that.”

Al-Shaair was able to rely on a con­ver­sa­tion with mo­ti­va­tional speaker Inky John­son, who had his col­lege ca­reer at Ten­nessee come to an end in 2006 with an in­jury that per­ma­nently par­a­lyzed his right arm.

“He said, ‘At some point, you’re go­ing to have to get over what you thought was sup­posed to hap­pen, and deal with what is hap­pen­ing,’ ” Al-Shaair said. “It was some­thing that I wrote in my note­book and I never for­got it, and in­stantly, once I got out of that dark place, t h a t ’s wh a t I t h o u g h t about.”

(Re­ally) fast start: FAU has been known to get off to a fast start and put to­gether strong open­ing drives. The Owls’ open­ing drive on Satur­day was an­other level of fast.

As in, the fastest open­ing score in FAU his­tory.

Start­ing at the Owls’ 25-yard line, red­shirt ju­nior run­ning back

lined up as an Hback, took a for­ward pass from be­hind the line of scrimmage on a jet sweep and scam­pered 75 yards for a touch­down.

Thir­teen sec­onds into Satur­day’s ac­tion, FAU scored its first points.

[email protected]­sen­tinel.com Twit­ter: @DavidFurones_

AMY BETH BEN­NETT/SUN SEN­TINEL

It was Se­nior Night for Flor­ida At­lantic and, while mid­dle line­backer Azeez Al-Shaair couldn’t make it re­hab­bing his knee, his pres­ence was felt in the Owls’ reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale against Char­lotte on Satur­day.

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