Lessons from his father pay off for Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and for Maryland defensive backs

The critique takes place every Sunday morning during the college football season, before Maryland assistant coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim starts preparing for the team’s next game.

Given who is analyzing the play of the team’s defensive backs from the previous day, Abdul-Rahim takes the feedback quite seriously. It comes from his father, Omar, whose knowledge of the position dates more than 50 years.

“I get a grade each Sunday,” Abdul-Rahim said with a laugh. “He’s real positive. He really wants to be helpful. He comes to practice once every couple of weeks. You’ll hear him critiquing at practice. He can’t help himself.”

Omar, the coach’s 67-year-old father, knows more than a little bit about the defensive back position, having taught its nuances for nearly 30 years to many who’ve go on to the NFL.

“He could’ve been a great Division I coach," Abdul-Rahim said of his father. “Unless you started as a [graduate assistant] and worked through the process, there wasn’t a lot of high school coaches getting college jobs like the opportunity I had because recruiting wasn’t as big and as important when he was coming through.”

Abdul-Rahim, who has quickly gained a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the Big Ten, said his father could’ve succeeded in that area, too.

“He loves to talk,” Abdul-Rahim said. “He is a really detailed person. He would research things, especially when the internet hit. I still get emails, text messages, videos as far as playing defensive back.”

What also impacted Omar’s career path was that he and his wife have eight children. It led him to coaching mostly at local high schools, first at Archbishop Carroll in Washington and later at Friendship Collegiate Academy when his son was head coach there.

“I ended sending two kids from Carroll to William & Mary and they wound up starting as true freshmen,” Omar said. “I ran into [current Pittsburgh Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin at a Senior Bowl practice and he was a wide receiver at William & Mary, and he remembered the kids I sent there.”

Tomlin’s son, Dino, a high school wide receiver and cornerback, recently committed to Maryland. Who says the elder Abdul-Rahim isn’t a recruiter? But most of his success — and clients — have come from teaching defensive backs, many with NFL aspirations.

Since founding the defensive back institute Cover1 in 2005, father and son have helped develop more than a dozen current and former NFL defensive backs, including Leon Hall, Aqib Talib and all three of the Fuller brothers, who worked with them during the nine years Omar lived in Bolton Hill.

Omar also passed what he knew down to his sons when they were growing up. Abdul-Rahim, his second-oldest son and fourth-oldest child, played at San Diego State before starting his own coaching career. Oldest son Ahmad was a walk-on at Maryland in the early 1990s and younger son Muhammad played at Kansas and is now a defensive backs coach at Bowie State.

While Abdul-Rahim joked that there were a “couple of outcasts” among the sons who wound up playing wide receiver, nearly all ended up playing in the secondary because of what they were taught by their father.

“He knew the position so well,” Abdul-Rahim said. “We’re not the biggest guys. He really felt that we would flourish at that position. He knew it. I was pretty advanced at a young age because of what he instilled. I don’t think he wanted to coach us [in high school or college]. He wanted other people to coach us.”

Maryland senior safety Darnell Savage Jr. first became aware of Abdul-Rahim when Friendship Collegiate came to play a local team near Savage’s home in Delaware and used the field at Savage’s high school.

Savage then followed Abdul-Rahim’s career after he moved onto Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama, where he spent two years before being hired by DJ Durkin in 2016.

“He’s been around a lot of football, a lot of good guys,” Savage said of Abdul-Rahim after practice Tuesday.

Now in his third season at Maryland, Abdul-Rahim’s impact has been seen in the growth of a secondary that had 10 interceptions last season — the most at Maryland since 2013 — and a defense that leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with 18 interceptions going into Saturday’s regular-season finale at No. 12 Penn State.

There has also been a run of pass interference calls that have derailed the Terps at times this season, including in a 34-32 loss at Indiana two weeks ago and even more in last week’s 52-51 overtime defeat at home to No. 10 Ohio State.

Abdul-Rahim said Tuesday that “you have to take the bitter with the sweet” with a group of relatively inexperienced corners.

“We play a lot of press [coverage] — probably us and Michigan play the most in the conference,” Abdul-Rahim said. “There’s a lot of hand battles, a lot of close contact. I personally think we’ve been on the other end of getting those calls.

“I don’t get too bent out of shape with the [pass interference calls]. It’s a difficult thing, probably one of the most difficult things to teach. Corners in general, it’s just having poise. It’s difficult to duplicate it with a drill, when the lights come on.”

Terps junior Tino Ellis, who worked with Abdul-Rahim and his father while growing up in Baltimore, leads the Terps with 11 pass breakups and an interception.

Former walk-on RaVon Davis, a senior, is in his first season as a full-time starter and has three interceptions, including a pick-six against the Buckeyes last week.

Junior Rayshad Lewis, the son of Ravens legend Ray Lewis, played mostly wide receiver starting out at Utah State.

“I feel like the corners have played great this year,” Abdul-Rahim said. “Considering what they’ve been asked to do, to stay in front of someone, especially with our schedule. They’re not playing against guys who are not going to have an opportunity to play on Sundays [in the NFL]. Tip the hat to the competition as well.

“Our busts and our mental mistakes are extremely low. We’re where we’re supposed to be. The ball sometimes doesn’t always bounce your way. If you really look at it, you’re talking about one corner (Ellis) came to Maryland as a wideout. Another corner (Davis) came as a walk-on. … And then you have Ray Lewis who just started playing in March.”

And how does Omar see their development?

“They will be so much better going forward from Maryland,” he said. “The basics of understanding the game, how to read [offenses], they will take with them. Somebody like Ray Lewis’ son, he will know to be a good DB. You see someone like Savage, who’s been the most successful, because he has the experience.”

Savage, whose four interceptions are second on the team and tied for second in the Big Ten to Maryland graduate linebacker Tre Watson’s five, said working with Abdul-Rahim during the 2016 and 2017 seasons — before veteran assistant Chuck Heater took over the safeties this season — played a huge role in his development.

“I think he’s helped develop me into the player I’ve become today," Savage said Tuesday. “He’s just a smart, wise man — not just football; off the field, on the field. That’s a guy I’ll talk to the rest of my life. I’m really blessed to have met him, really blessed to have had him teach me all the things that he’s taught me. I can’t say enough about Coach Aazaar.”

What Abdul-Rahim likes most is how feisty a group he is coaching.

“The biggest thing you want to see is competitive young men who don’t back down,” he said. “No one can say that we’ve backed down.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
46°