It has been a long journey for Mustafa Khaleefah. On Wednesday afternoon, Khaleefah took part in a ceremony to commemorate him signing his letter of intent to play football at Michigan State. It was a shining moment for the 6-foot-6, 282-pound offensive tackle. As a three-star recruit, he was the crown jewel of the Dearborn football team this last fall.
On one particular occasion, a man was walking by Khaleefah's house when he was suddenly shot and killed. "Motorcycles just pulled up and just shot him," Khaleefah said. "I guess that you could say it was the last straw but there were so many other things that went on there too that you've got to be like, you've got to get out of here. You can't raise a family in these conditions."
So, when he was about nine years old, Khaleefah's family immigrated to America in search of a new life. "We couldn't just afford to lose any more family members than we did," Khaleefah said. Just like that, Khaleefah found himself in America without knowing any English. At that time, football was the furthest thing from his concern.
Besides, he did not even know anything about football. "I knew some English but it wasn't up to any speed," Khaleefah said. "I couldn't really communicate with people that much. It was hard making friends at first." Yet, as Khaleefah began to hone the new language, things got easier and making friends became easier. It was then that football was first introduced to him -- just not in the way many would believe.
"I started playing Madden when I was in middle school," Khaleefah said, referring to the popular NFL video game series. "I didn't play football yet but that is when I got to know football. I knew the rules from Madden, not because I played (football)." It was not until he got to high school -- when he started growing into his current frame -- that people began telling him to go out for football.
Yet, it took until his sophomore year to actually give it a try. "So I said, 'why not?'" Khaleefah said. "I tried it out and I fell in love with the game." Of course, Dearborn football coach John Powell was more than thrilled to add Khaleefah into the program. Almost instantly, Powell saw a NCAA Division I-level athlete in Khaleefah.
"For Mustafa, it was the first time I'd seen him move," Powell said. "Guys that big don't move. I knew right away. I told everyone that this guy is a Power Five player." Indeed, Powell was right. According to Powell, Khaleefah is just the second player from the city of Dearborn in the last 30 years to sign a Big Ten scholarship. Khaleefah is overjoyed to be considered a Michigan State Spartan.
"I like everything about it," Khaleefah said. "The campus is gorgeous. It's a very good academic school, which is important to my parents. They have a great football program and the coaches have shown me so much love. I plan on showing that back on the football field." In a time when immigration is a hot topic in America, Powell sees Khaleefah's journey as something truly special and inspirational.
"It's a great story for Mustafa," Powell said. "It's also a great story for people who are immigrants in general. You're hearing, in the environment we're in right now, there's a lot of negative going on. You see a story of a great kid who has achieved greatness (and) didn't come from this country. He had everything going against him and found a sport and excelled in it. Now, he's going to school for free. It's wonderful."
Khaleefah's family set out to America when he was a boy to find a new, safer life. After so much work and dedication, Khaleefah is living his version of the American Dream. "Just for anybody who ever doubts the situation they are in or can't seem to find any success, you just have to keep trying," Khaleefah said. "No matter how many times you fail, you just have to keep going and believe in yourself. I think you'll find success in that."
By Jared Purcell