In football, “fast” is an adjective, often used to describe tailbacks or players in the defensive secondary. Used as a verb, the term rarely has a place in the sport’s vernacular.
But on the fields at Pamlico County, junior varsity defensive tackle Mohamed Saleh makes use of both senses of the word. He has spent the month of Ramadan abstaining from food or water during daylight hours despite practicing and playing in intense heat, as commanded by the Quran and the Islamic religion.
Saleh is allowed to eat before and after daylight hours, which is when coaches have encouraged him to drink a lot of extra water.
“Our families, in the past, they did it, and we have to do it,” Saleh said of the tradition.
It has been a challenging month for Saleh.
“It’s really hard to play without drinking” Saleh said, “but I drink a lot of water during the night and it makes it easier for me to practice.”
Aside from altering the way he practices, Saleh said fasting has changed his behavior at school in that he doesn’t go to lunch with the rest of the students, remaining in the classroom instead.
But the month hasn’t just been hard on Saleh. Coaches have watched him struggle through practices and games, without being able to offer any help except to tell him to take a break whenever he needs it.
“Really, with us, it’s been a big concern,” offensive coordinator Jere’ Baldwin said. “The main reason is because, with the heat we’ve had this year, we’ve had to watch him real close. With all the other kids able to get water and him not able to do that, if he says, ‘I need to take a break,’ we let him take a break.”
Because JV games begin at 6:30 p.m., the sun doesn’t set by kickoff time and the coaching staff got a scare last week.
“I had him on the sideline, stuffing Snickers bars down him, trying to get some sugar back in him as quick as we possibly could,” Baldwin said. “He had the shakes. He’s not going to quit. He’s going to go after it as hard as he can.”
“He’s probably first or second on the team in tackles, he’s a key player,” JV coach Alan Woodard said, “extremely fast.”
Saleh is surrounded by support from his coaches and teammates, which makes it a little easier for him.
“They’ve been pretty nice,” Saleh said of his teammates’ reaction to his fasting, “they say ‘It is easy, do not think about it,’ stuff like that.”
“I respect his commitment to his faith,” said Woodard, who is also a deacon at a Protestant church. (MORE)