Earning a nickname
LARAMIE – Nicknames are a big deal in Raghib Ismail Jr’s family.
He’s got his father, Raghib Ismail Sr., who earned the name “Rocket” after torching opponents on kick returns and from the wide receiver spot at Notre Dame.
The there’s “The Missile.” That name was given to his uncle Qadry Ismail, who burst on the scene at Syracuse.
There’s another uncle, Sulaiman “The Bomb” Ismail, who played his college ball at UTEP.
Even Ismail’s grandma, Fatma, was given the moniker “The Launch Pad” because of the athletic talents of her sons.
That got Ismail Jr. Thinking – maybe he needs a new nickname?
“I’ve been called Rocket since I was born,” Wyoming’s senior receiver said Wednesday afternoon in Laramie. “I’ve had that name forever, but there are a lot to pick from. Maybe the “Projectile.”
Ismail Jr. has a big personality. His smile is bright, inviting and he is quick to start a conversation. Fellow receiver Austin Conway calls him the “motivator” in the group. Says he’s always talking and pumping guys up.
He is also very self-aware.
He knows that if he is to earn any nickname, his stats must be better than the 24 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns he finished with during his first season at UW.
In fact, when he even hears those numbers, Ismail Jr. shakes
“I think of a 22-year-old who was just trying to figure it
all out,” he said of his 2018 campaign. “Last year, for me, football was more
of an outlet. Now, it’s time to get going.”
After originally attending TCU out of Ranchview High School
in the Dallas area, Ismail Jr. went to Cisco College in central Texas.
He said going the junior college route was a tough pill to swallow.
If you have ever seen the Netflix hit series “Last Chance U,”
Ismail Jr. said it was like that, only worse.
“Man, those cats are spoiled,” he laughed. “I could tell you
Ismail Jr. said the main difference between JUCO and
Division I is the mentality. He had a situation last season in a home game against
Washington State that served as a wake-up call. He slapped a cornerback across
the helmet. Ismail Jr. said he was being disrespected.
“In my head it was justified,” he said.
Craig Bohl and the UW staff didn’t agree. Ismail Jr. received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. He put his team in a hole.
“I was still in JUCO mode,” he said, adding that he got an
earful from the sideline. “I started thinking, ‘I might not want to do that.
Especially on national television.”
Basically, 2018 was a mulligan for Ismail Jr.
He said he is comfortable in the offense and in Laramie. He
said last season when a ball was heading his way, he considered it a “huge
moment.” Now, he knows this corps of wide outs have to make plays if Wyoming hopes
to become bowl eligible for the fourth year in a row.
There’s no more Nico Evans to rely on, he added.
In 2019, names like Conway, John Okwoli, Ayden Eberhardt, Gunner Gentry – and, yes, Ismail Jr. – need to fill up the stat sheets on Saturdays.
“In the passing game, this year, we are throwing it. We have
to. We don’t have another choice,” he said. “I have to change my mentality.
When the ball in the air, I need to grab it.
“Plus, I don’t want to run block all year, too.”
All kidding aside, Bohl said he has been impressed with the
strides Ismail Jr. has been making during fall camp.
“(He’s) coming out of his breaks really well,” Bohl said
post-practice Wednesday. “He’s more confident in running his routes. His
competency as far as catching the ball has improved. He’s a more seasoned
During halftime of each of the Cowboys 12 games in 2018,
Ismail Jr. would reach in his locker for his phone. No. not because he is a millennial
who can’t stay off those damn things, but because he always had a message in
his inbox from the original Rocket.
His dad would give him tips. Dissect his game and encourage
Ismail Jr. said the relationship with his famous father strikes a “perfect balance.” He can be the kind of dad that will get in your face and tell you to pick up your game or he can nurture and teach, Ismail Jr. said.
Is there pressure being the son of a guy who finished second
in Heisman balloting and had an eight-year NFL career?
“No,” Ismail Jr. said emphatically. “Any pressure I have
ever felt, the driving force is all from me. Pops has a way of standing out of
the way or letting me know what’s up. I could call him now and say, I don’t
want to play football anymore. He would probably have a talk with me, but he would
respect my decision.”
The name Ismail is synonymous with football.
Junior called it more of an advantage than the opposite.
“It’s a really crazy dynamic,” he said of the Ismail clan. “My
dad and uncles are all different but in a harmonious way. If I’m looking for
mental clarity, that’s ‘The Bomb.’ Anything physical or has to do with
recovery, that’s uncle Qadry. Pops, the first thing he taught me was catching
the ball outside the body.
“All that together, it’s been an easy transition.”
Now, he knows the numbers must reflect that.
Especially is he wants a new nickname.