Moe Almasri came onto the field as the second cornerback with 11:31 remaining in a 17-17 game. Nevada had the ball, third and six, at Northwestern’s 13-yard line. It was a long way from playing in the 2012 IHSA State Championship Game; it was even further from playing backyard football with his five siblings in Mokena, Ill.
Almasri’s first snap in a Northwestern uniform was just three quarters earlier on special teams. He was lining up on the biggest defensive play of the game merely two hours later. Even the opportunistic walk-on couldn’t have envisioned this moment unfolding.
A walk-on graduate transfer from Division-III Robert Morris University (Ill.), Almasri has been fulfilling a dream since he joined the team last year. Now, he’s living it.
“No, I could not have imagined it,” Almasri said when asked about playing cornerback on Nevada’s final three drives. “Not at all. It’s all so shocking to me, it’s really humbling, but at the same time, I’m ready. Whatever the coaches need, I’m there. Whatever for the team.”
Listed on the Week 2 two-deep along with Montre Hartage, Marcus McShepard and Brian Bullock, Almasri came onto the field in the fourth quarter due to injuries to both McShepard and Bullock. He would play opposite Hartage for the remainder of the game.
“Honestly, the DBs do a great job of getting us prepared,” Almasri said. “When you’re a part of the ‘Sky Team,’ it’s unbelievable. You don’t lack confidence. We’re all ready to help each other out, we’re all ready take the field whenever we’re needed. That’s just the swagger that the ‘Sky Team’ has. Especially playing with safeties like Kyle [Queiro], Godwin [Igwebuike] and Jared [McGee], they’re amazing, they help you out. And Montre [Hartage] being on the other side is unbelievable, they’re all so good at their jobs.”
Hartage, a second-year starter, spoke on the depth and preparedness of the group he has become a leader of.
“I feel like the guys, they responded well. Initially, I feel like everyone needs to take a couple plays to get the jitters out,” Hartage said. “But after Brian [Bullock] got out there, Moe [Almasri] got out there, after the first play, they did well. They were right on beat.”
Almasri’s unorthodox path to playing a significant role in the secondary began when he was accepted to graduate school at Northwestern. His connection to the football program was through Alex Spanos, Northwestern’s Assistant Director of Sports Performance and a teammate of Almasri’s at Robert Morris. The cornerback sent the team the YouTube link to a highlight film from his time at Robert Morris, and then played the waiting game.
“I just got a call one day and they said I could walk-on and that allowed me to get this opportunity to be here,” Almasri said. “Just coming here last year, I kept working, made the travel roster a few times. The offseason was really huge in getting me ready to play this year.”
Now a fixture on the travel roster, Almasri was on “at least three, maybe four” special teams units heading into the season, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Defensive backs coach Jerry Brown praised Almasri for his overall being, calling him a “special” person.
“He is just full of energy and he wants to be good so bad, he just does everything you ask,” Brown said. “He has really good football instincts, I actually believe football instincts come from above. Those things, I’ve seen many times before, gets the person in the position where he needs to be to win.”
Thanks to Almasri’s incredible drive and will to succeed, perhaps the journey to achieving his dream should not come as a surprise. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Almasri attended Lincoln-Way East High School, the No. 1 ranked team in the Chicago-area right now, as the cornerback duly noted with a smile. That was where Almasri’s varsity head coach raved about the coaching prowess of Fitzgerald.
“Just hearing about it, seeing Northwestern on TV growing up, it’s a dream,” Almasri said. “I chose to go to Robert Morris because it was so close to home and still being so close to home is amazing. I have a really big family, five siblings, so just being a train ride home was the biggest thing.”
Northwestern will be a long way from home this week in Durham, N.C., but with the expectations of an increased role on Saturday, Almasri’s preparation has not changed. The Week 1 Defensive Practice Player of the Week comes into every Monday morning meeting with a pencil and notebook, filling its pages with Northwestern’s game-plan.
For those unfamiliar with the cornerback’s skill set, Almasri is a tremendous athlete and, according to his teammates, among the fastest players on the team.
“I’m speedy, I would say I’m very fast and very ruthless,” Almasri said. “I’m not going to give up. It’s just working my technique that the coaches give me but I’m going to play as hard as I can for as long as I can.”
With only one year of eligibility remaining, the 2017 season is all he has left. Almasri’s more worried about Duke’s aerial attack than the prospect of playing his final year of college football.
“I just grew up dreaming of playing here,” Almasri said. “My parents, my family, a lot of my old teammates come to support me. They’re huge in supporting me, I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Almasri describes his four brothers and sister as being the traditional competitive siblings to a T.
“The backyard basketball, the backyard football, it was just all day every day,” he said. “Our parents couldn’t catch us in the house.”
On Saturday, though, Almasri’s parents will catch him on the field at Wallace Wade Stadium, seeing his dream unfold in front of them.