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Rocket Ismail

Sport: Football

Born: November 18, 1969

Town: Elizabeth

Raghib Ramadian Ismail was born November 18, 1969 in Elizabeth and spent his childhood in Newark. He and his two brothers were raised as a Sunni Muslims, and were exceptional young scholars as well as extraordinary athletes. After their father died in 1980, the family could no longer afford private school tuition and went into the local public school system. They did not fare well in the new environment, so Fatma Ismail moved her boys to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to the home of her mother-in-law, 77-year-old Laura Bauknight.

Rocket and his younger brother Qadry excelled in track and football in junior high and high school. They gave the Meyers High Mohawks an awesome one-two punch in the backfield and an unbeatable track team. Rocket was undersized, but had explosive speed and a great football IQ. Lou Holtz scouted him personally for Notre Dame and was blown away by the young man on-field and off-field presence.

As a freshman for Notre Dame in 1988, Rocket led the nation with 36.1 yards per kickoff return and averaged over 27 yards per pass reception. The Fighting Irish won the national championship. In Rocket’s sophomore year, he was an All-American as Notre Dame finished with a #2 ranking. He also starred for the Notre Dame track team during this time. He ran a 10.2 in the 100 meters as a freshman and finished 2nd in the 55 meters at the 1991 NCAA Indoor championships.

In 1990, Rocket was an All-American receiver and runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting to Ty Detmer. He was picked as Walter Camp Player of the Year. Against Michigan, Rocket returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. His most memorable play that season came in the Orange Bowl, when he returned a punt 91 yards for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown. The play was called back because of clipping penalty, and Colorado won 10–9.

Rocket decided to go pro in 1991, and was the presumptive #1 pick in the NFL Draft. However, the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL beat the NFL to the punch. The team had just been purchased by Wayne Gretzky, John Candy and NHL owner Bruce McNall. Hoping to make a splash, they inked Rocket to a four-year $18 million deal. The CFL salary cap per team at the time was less than $4 million a year, but an exemption existed for a marquee player. At the time, no NFL player was getting paid more than $4 million a year.

Rocket earned every dollar of his salary as a rookie, leading the Argonauts to victory in the Grey Cup over Calgary. He returned a kick 87 yards for a score and was named the MVP of the game. The Argonauts fell to 6–12 in 1992, and McNall found himself in financial trouble. When Rocket asked to be released so he could play with the Raiders, McNall let him go.

Rocket had moderate success in three seasons with the Raiders as a receiver and return man. He was traded to the Carolina Panthers in 1996 and spent three more years as a full-time receiver. In 1998, he caught 69 passes for 1,024 yards and 8 TDs. The following year he joined the Cowboys as a free agent and established new career highs with 80 catches and 1,097 yards. An injury in 2000 limited him to 9 games. He retired after the 2001 season. A devout Christian, he is an inspirational speaker at churches across the country.


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