Muhammad leads Notre Dame to Ireland
For opponents trying to catch the speedy Khalfani Muhammad, the feat requires more than just a set of wheels — it requires a passport.
In Los Angeles, the Sherman Oaks Notre Dame Track & Field and football star has been running all over his opponents. As a junior running back, Muhammad ran for 1,126 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in 2011, as well as won three CIF state Track & Field titles in the 100 and 200-meters and as the anchor leg of Notre Dame's 400-meter relay team.
In Barcelona, Spain, Muhammad followed in the footsteps of his father, former USC sprinter Malik Muhammad, and competed for Puerto Rico in the 2012 IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships.
And in just two weeks, Chandler Arizona's Hamilton High School will be tasked with running down Muhammad in another new locale: Dublin, Ireland.
Muhammad and the Knights will participate in Global Football's Global Ireland Football Tournament (GIFT 2012), a unique experience that will showcase some of the country's top football talent from the high school to the Division I level across the pond.
In what is being billed as Dublin Friday Night Lights, Notre Dame will play against Hamilton in one of six double-header prep football games. The following day, the Knights will be on hand to watch affiliate university Notre Dame and Navy square off in one of college football's oldest rivalries.
"Football in Europe is becoming a little bit bigger of a deal," said Notre Dame head coach Kevin Rooney. "It's an opportunity for our players to learn something. I think it will be a great experience for all."
While Rooney is optimistic, the opportunity doesn't come without concerns. Embarking on a trip of this magnitude is much more of an undertaking than the usual Friday afternoon cross-town bus trip. Many players have never been out of the country, away from their families or playing on a stage as large as Parnell Park.
"There's a lot of things I'm worried about," Rooney said. "There's jet lag and there's foreign food and there's all that kind of stuff and who knows how that will effect us. But the other guys have the same things that we do."
"We don't know what to expect," Muhammad said. "When we get there, there's probably going to be a lot of new things and a lot of new changes. But everybody is going to bond together."
As an athlete who is familiar with the rigors of foreign travel and competition, Muhammad will be as big of an asset off the field as he is on the field. The senior leader is already looking at the big picture aspect of the trip.
"It's a stepping stone," Muhammad said. "We're going to be spending a long flight together so you'll have time to introduce yourself to anybody that you haven't really met. You get to know everybody a little bit more and you get a little closer."
The entire Notre Dame football program is buzzing right now. The Knights boast a veteran squad that is projected to finish first in the Serra league and is currently ranked 45th nationally and eighth in the state. Top senior prospects like Muhammad, quarterback Kelly Hilinski and lineman Leroy Tanoai are fielding Division I offers. A trip to Europe is right around the corner. Expectations, emotions and excitement levels are all running high as the season is set to begin.
However, it's that buzz that both Rooney and Muhammad are trying to ignore, as their first game against Gardena Serra could potentially be one of the most difficult.
"Ireland is next, but it's not the key thing right now," Muhammad said. "We've got to take it game-by-game. You can't get off focus, because when you get off focus you get off track and that's when mistakes happen."
Rooney prefers that the team not even talk about the trip. The word 'Ireland' is seldom uttered at practice right now.
"I think our players know that our competition the first game is extremely tough," Rooney said. "I think we've done a good job of focusing on Serra and we'll worry about Ireland next week."
The contest against Serra will provide for an entertaining show on the ground. Muhammad will face his Serra counterpart in Anterio Bateman, a similar-sized running back who is known for his long runs.
"We're looking forward to (Europe), we're very excited for it," Muhammad said "But right now, we just want to focus on Serra."