Snack bar order:
Bagel supreme and Egg McWilliams
When and why did you start playing football?
I started playing football when I was four years old. It’s a funny story; my dad actually slipped the coach 20 bucks to let me play. I’m from a football family, and that’s how we do things. I’ve played for my whole life.
How did your father influence you?
He played football, and he was a first-generation Jordanian American, so it was really special for him to be playing. He got to play in college as well, so I wanted to be like my dad, and I wear his number  now.
You went to boarding school, Trinity-Pawling. What was that experience like?
Not to bash on Williams, but I think [Trinity-Pawling was] the best education I have received and will receive. Just in terms of learning time management, you rarely had a free moment. You run from classes to practice to sit-down meals, and I loved it there. It was one of the best times of my life.
Did you participate in any additional extracurricular activities?
I was the editor of my school paper and a three-sport varsity athlete. I was captain of the football and wrestling teams and did shot put and discus in track and field. I was a proctor, so I ran the dorm; I was a prefect, which is like a head of school. I did Model U.N. and helped run Relay for Life. I think that’s it.
Why did you decide to attend the College?
Basically, it came down to Williams and West Point. West Point is a big commitment, but I really wanted to experience college and have some fun while I was doing it, and Williams had the best combination of athletics and academics. It wasn’t a guarantee that I would play football at West Point – I would have had to walk on. I had a great opportunity here, and the coaching staff wanted me, so I thought, “Why not go to the best school in the country and play football for an incredibly historic and legendary program?”
What are your favorite things about the team?
The guys. That’s why I play. It’s an incredible group of young men. Their leadership skills, focus, desire and willingness to work through challenges is unparalleled. Obviously with the history of the program, I came here to turn this program around, and we’ve done just that.
What is it like to play for head coach Mark Raymond?
It’s the best. He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s so disciplined and so focused, but he knows how to have fun. It’s always great to go out to practice, and football is fun again. At times in my career, it wasn’t that fun, but under him, it’s been a great time.
What were some times when football wasn’t fun for you, and why did you stick with it?
I’ve had coaches in the past who were really hard on me and some of my friends. That’s part of the game, and you can’t be sensitive, but at times, it just felt like there was no direction to it. I’m someone who takes as much criticism as you can give me as long as it’s directed. Other times, teammates of mine weren’t as selfless as they could be. I love to play football because we’re trying to achieve one goal as a unit, and it takes both the coaches and the players working together in a positive direction. It’s fun now because we’re doing just that, and I’m really enjoying it.
Why did you decide to be a defensive lineman, and what do you like about the position?
I don’t know if I chose the position as much as the position chose me. You get blessed with a certain set of skills and abilities and kind of just run with it, but it’s a tough job. If you ask anyone, there’s not a ton of glory in it. You pretty much eat double teams, and let your guys get open to go make plays, but again, whatever the team needs me to do, I do it.
How have you developed as a player over the past four years?
Starting out as a first-year, I was kind of all over the place. I wasn’t as controlled and refined as I am now. I broke my leg that year and was out for most of that season. I got to really focus on rehab and some of my skills and what exactly I needed to fix in my game. Over time, it’s just become a lot more technical with a lot more refinement in eye movements. Just being focused and disciplined is a big thing.
How did you cope with the broken leg during your first season?
I missed two weeks of school, and every other Friday I had to take a three-hour drive – six hours round trip – to go to the doctor and get things checked, so it was a major event in my life. I think the best thing that came out of it is that I realized that what I love to do is play football, and that’s who I am. Academically, I struggled because this is a hard school. But the beauty of it is that I got to find my passion in English, so it worked out. It made me cherish and appreciate football and made me realize what my true academic ambitions were.
What is your opinion about the recent controversy regarding concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)?
Obviously, player safety is a very important part of the game, and some people recognize the risks and proceed while other people don’t really have an option other than to play the game for their well-being and livelihood. In my opinion, we need to do everything in our power to research and figure out how we can better protect players and diagnose these things faster and find some workable solutions. I think football is an incredible game, and I think issues with the head and CTE are some of the ways that it could go away, so I would like to see us put more time and research into finding a solution.
I know you used to wrestle at the College but left the team after your freshman season. Why did you stop?
The wrestling team here is an incredible program – one of the best in the country. I wish I could have kept wrestling, but I felt like I needed to focus on my injury and rehabbing and that, more importantly, [I needed to] focus on the football team and try to get everything in the right direction there. I think we’ve done that, and we’ve come together as a collective and made that our focus. It’s worked out really well, so leaving wrestling was a decision I made for the football team.
Football has struggled in recent years and was winless last season. How did you and the team deal with that?
We took it hard. There was a lot of criticism and a lot of talk from a lot of places, and we kept that in the back of our minds but then pushed it aside. We said that what mattered was the people on the team, and we were going to come together, have an incredible offseason and figure out who’s in it and just get better. We did, and we are, but there’s a lot more to do, which is really exciting.
How does it feel to have secured your first winning season since 2011?
It’s great, and that was one of my team goals going into the season. It’s an honor to be with this group of guys and these coaches. I’ve never been part of a team like this – not even win-wise, just the group of people because everyone is so passionate about what they do on a daily basis. It’s an incredible feeling.
You recovered a fumble for a touchdown against Colby on Sept. 23. How did that feel?
I’ve been playing football for 17 years, and I’ve never scored a touchdown, so that was one of the cooler moments I’ve had personally, but it just speaks for our team. It was in the fourth quarter, and we were grinding on that team the whole game, and I got a lucky bounce after my teammate forced it out. I had guys laying down in front to block, and it really speaks more to how our team has been and how our team functions now.
What is your favorite NFL team, and who is your favorite professional football player?
My favorite NFL team is the New York Giants. It’s been a tough season, but I’m a Giants fan for life. My favorite professional football player is Aaron Donald. He plays for the Rams, so he doesn’t get much recognition, but he’s a great player.