A few sessions of wall ball can go a long way toward understanding Moriah Yousefi and his love for lacrosse.
In 2017, the Street resident was a home-schooled high school senior taking courses at Harford Community College, where he would bring his lacrosse stick and ball to the school’s gym after class.
He was aware of the man that would occasionally watch him — the school’s lacrosse coach, Aaron Verardi, who also serves as the gym’s supervisor. When he saw Verardi keeping an eye on him, he amped up his workout that much more.
Yousefi wasn’t sure if he would end up attending Harford Community College full-time, and he was on the fence whether he wanted to continue playing lacrosse in college. But, just in case, this was an opportunity to impress, and he made sure to jump on it.
Two years later, Yousefi seized yet another opportunity. After a health scare cost him his first season, he rebounded to become one of the top junior college faceoff specialists and led the Fighting Owls to the National Junior College Athletic Association national semifinals last spring.
His next stop is Division I lacrosse, having accepted a scholarship to play for Rutgers in July and preparing to suit up for the Scarlet Knights this spring.
“Once I decided to play lacrosse at Harford, my goal was to go Division I if I could,” he said. “So I’m very excited for this opportunity and I’m very grateful. Opportunities are what you make of them and I have to make the most of this one.”
The youngest of eight siblings, all home-schooled by their mother, Yousefi watched his older brother Jed, who played lacrosse at Towson, have fun winning faceoffs. So he followed suit when he joined a recreation league team at age 5. He played club ball and also for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes during high school and took the faceoff tips his brother gave him to home-school himself.
“I never had one-on-one training, and facing off was something I could do on my own,” he said. “I always kept my stick by my bed, and before I went to bed, I would just practice doing my reps there. In a way, I guess it was the easiest thing for me to hone in on — something I could work on myself.”
The time has proven to be well spent.
Last spring at Harford Community College, Yousefi dominated faceoffs for the Fighting Owls, who finished with a 13-2 mark and won their first Region XX men’s lacrosse championship in the program’s modern era.
He won 242 of 336 faceoffs — a 72% clip — and also had a Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference-high 154 ground balls. He had just as much success in the classroom with a 3.96 cumulative GPA to earn first-team Academic All-America honors.
“He was pretty awesome and made it really easy for us,” said goalie Barret Casto (Severna Park). "He had like a 4.0 [GPA] this year, and for some of the younger guys coming in, he really set an example for us to get it done in the classroom and being able to ball out on the field.
"Going D-I is all of our dreams, and for Moriah to do that is awesome. When I heard he was going to Rutgers, it just made me so happy for him.”
After committing to play at Harford in his first year, Yousefi showed immediate promise that came to a sudden halt after the Owls’ first game. His wisdom teeth were coming in and got infected, and he said the pain was more excruciating than any of the several broken bones he’s suffered.
Walking out to the kitchen at home the following morning, he collapsed and passed out with his mother fortunately there to provide aid.
After going to the hospital, he was hooked up to a heart monitor and went unconscious twice more.
“The last time it happened, my heart flat-lined for four seconds. For four seconds, my heart wasn’t beating, which was kind of scary,” he said. “To this day, we still don’t exactly know what the issue was. The doctor thought it could have been the infection making it’s way to my heart, but I’ve never had any issues since. It was just a weird thing that happened and forced me to miss my first year.”
After being declared a medical redshirt, he was cleared by his doctor to play last summer and hasn’t had any further problems.
It certainly didn’t affect his play this spring. Verardi said Yousefi’s athleticism, quick hands and willingness to scrap separated him from others on faceoffs.
“He just had a phenomenal year and I don’t think I could pick a better poster child for our program,” Verardi said. “He sparked us. Everybody rallied around him and he kind of pumped up the team. It was cool. He’s the total package — on the field and off the field — and somebody that everybody was always rooting for.”
Yousefi said he fell into the stigma that is associated with being a Juco student-athlete when he first opted to go to Harford, largely because his father became ill and he wanted to stay close to home.
He said he wouldn’t change anything, though.
“It’s just very economical and can be a very wise move to make, especially to bridge the gap and help you mature a little more before you go on to a four-year school. I’m very grateful of the decision I made,” he said.
Yousefi has three years of eligibility left at Rutgers, and Verardi said that’s plenty of time for him to make an impact.
“I think the sky is the limit for him,” he said. “He’s going to be able to go in there, find his way, put in some good work against good guys every day and then build off of that. I think he can be very good as a D-I [faceoff specialist] — he’s definitely got the tools and he’s going to continue to get stronger and that’s going to make him that much better.”
Six of his seven siblings earned college degrees and several were granted academic scholarships. The first to earn an athletic scholarship, he plans to major in computer science or finance.
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“I basically learned that things don’t always go exactly how you plan them,” he said. “You can have in your mind exactly how you want your life to go, you can try to figure out every last detail and say this is how it’s going to work out. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Life throws you many hiccups along the way and you have to adapt and take what is given and go with it.”