SHOWING ADMIRABLE brass, Jamal Abdur-Rahman approached coach Drew Gordon in the fall of 2007 and asked to try out for La Salle High's football varsity.
Laughs weren't next, yet Abdur-Rahman did receive orders to get his butt over with the freshman team.
Upset? Of course. The kid's a competitor. And while starring these last three seasons, well enough to earn a scholarship to Villanova, he has proven he likely could have made ninth-grade waves.
As for that disappointment . . . It was hardly his first.
Some kids begin playing football so early, they can almost say, "Know what? I scored my first 17 touchdowns while wearing diapers." Not Jamal Abdur-Rahman. As the years of inactivity ticked by, he became more and more ticked off.
"My dad wouldn't let me play until I was 10," Abdur-Rahman said yesterday at Plymouth-Whitemarsh, before the Explorers, a defending state champ, began a practice in anticipation of Saturday's 1 p.m. Class AAAA quarterfinal, vs. Easton, at Northeast's Charlie Martin Memorial Stadium. "He never said anything about the reason being a concern for physical well-being.
"He said football isn't something you just play. He said you have to be real serious about it. Everything I start, he wants me to finish. After asking him every year, and having him say no, I guess he felt I was ready."
He paused and laughed.
"Since most kids start at age 5, he says I'm fresher than everyone else," he added. "He says there's less mileage on my legs."
As mostly a tailback and occasionally a slot receiver, the 5-10, 180-pound Abdur-Rahman has compiled gaudy statistics in the Explorers' ever-potent offense. How gaudy? Try over 3,000 rushing yards (by a lot) and 1,000-plus as a pass-catcher.
Specifically, you're talking 519 carries for 3,662 yards and 53 TDs along with 73 snags for 1,049 yards and 12 more scores. Grand total: 4,711 and 65 and there have been three other TDs on returns en route to 410 total points (yes, just one lonely conversion). He's also an ace cornerback.
"Obviously, Jamal has been excellent for our program," Gordon said. "He brings a special dimension of star status. We didn't know what we were getting until we started putting him out there."
And even then, the impact was gradual.
"He was OK in August [of 2008], but it wasn't like, 'Geez, look at this!' " Gordon said. "And then in our Malvern game, when we got beat pretty bad [47-21], Jamal showed me things on the field that I hadn't seen in practice. Some cuts. Some plays. Wow! As a staff we met the next day and decided we had four kids - Jamal was one of them - that deserved to be on the field full time, and wouldn't come off.
"His breakout game was West Catholic. He had an interception in the end zone - came from nowhere; just an incredible play - and took it back to about the 40. We were about to get blown out and he went on to have an incredible night (in a 27-26 win). From then he's just gotten better."
Bloodlines play a role in Abdur-Rahman's success. His dad, Amin Abdur-Rahman, then known as Jerome Ruff, was a factor in the three main sports at Germantown (class of 1981) and was good enough at receiver to play in the Daily News-Eagles City All-Star Football Game.
Jamal played his youth ball for the Oak Lane Wildcats.
"I always played up, against older guys," he said. "When I asked coach Gordon about playing varsity as a freshman, I felt it would better me as a player. I don't want to say freshman ball was a waste of time, but I felt like I deserved to be with the big dogs.
"I feel like I've had a good career. I can't believe it's winding down. It has gone so fast. Though last year's state title was great, I was hurt most of the season and that took away some of the enjoyment. Since I'm healthier, I feel I can do more. It would be so much fun to win this all again."
In Catholic League history, Abdur-Rahman is one of only four players to earn coaches' first team All-Catholic honors 3 straight years while performing for championship squads. The others were Archbishop Ryan linebacker Gene McAleer (1990-92), St. Joseph's Prep defensive back Danny Jones (2001-03, also running back as a senior) and current West Catholic wideout Quran Kent. Only McAleer did so in the all-one-league era.
At 'Nova, Abdur-Rahman will be dead set on playing running back, though a smidgen of slot receiver wouldn't bother him.
Long runs are his favorite . . . kinda.
"It's exciting to flat-out beat people downfield, especially when they're supposedly just as fast as you are," he said. "But you know what? The best runs are those in the trenches, when you turn something that should be 0 yards into 5 yards."
Abdur-Rahman, who lives near 19th and Cheltenham, provides help on more than football fields, by the way.
Recently he volunteered to mentor a freshman football player who'd been experiencing more downs than ups in his overall La Salle experience.
"I just felt it was something I should do," he said, simply. "When I was a freshman, I was extended the same kind of help, and concern, by seniors.
"He was having trouble managing his time. That's a big thing at La Salle. They give you a lot of free time and they need you to grow up quick. I had problems with that, so I was able to sit down with him and explain how to get things accomplished."
Major grid stardom. Villanova-quality academics. Here's hoping the kid listened to every single word.