HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — One of the standout graduates of Faheem Ali’s training program happens to be his son, Josh Ali, an incoming Kentucky freshman.
The two Alis are in opposite stages of their careers. Faheem’s playing days are done, and he now runs Complete Athletes, an all-sports training program in South Florida. His college career spanned two schools, first Eastern Michigan and then Louisiana Tech, where he hauled in 21 catches and 4 touchdowns as a senior.
Faheem caught balls from a trio of NFL quarterbacks during college: Charlie Batch at Eastern Michigan then Tim Rattay and Luke McCown at Louisiana Tech, but the receiver couldn’t stick with the league after tryouts with the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and the New York Giants. He played short stints of arena league ball in Chicago and Las Vegas after that.
Seventeen years after his college career came to an end, his son’s is set to begin. Faheem said he was good enough to play in the NFL, but acknowledged he could’ve done things differently in college. But now he’s a guide for his son. Josh, who started at the bottom of his dad’s Complete Athletes program, is ready to begin a career of his own.
The 6-foot, 180-pound receiver who prides himself on smooth routes and soft hands is one of two Chaminade-Madonna graduates starting at Kentucky this summer. He’ll be joined by defensive end teammate Chris Whittaker. As for who’s better: “Me of course,” Josh says with a wide grin. “Obviously.”
The younger Ali was ranked a 3-star prospect and a top-100 Florida prospect in the 2017 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He’s not among the Wildcats’ most heralded newcomers, but his dad believes he’s ahead of his class, and maybe even a few current Kentucky wideouts.
“I don’t even know what’s going on in practice,” Faheem said. “I just know the skill set he has right now. Me watching them before I left, I watched Josh run routes with them, and already I knew that he’s already ahead of a lot of receivers that are already there.”
Then came the qualifier.
“That’s just Daddy talking, but I’m also talking as a receiver,” Faheem said.
Dad, mentor, coach, trainer — Faheem has played a slew of roles for his son. He’s had custody of Josh since December 2004. Before that, Faheem was still moving around, clinging to the last chances of a fading football career.
The best of those roles, as Faheem cinematically put it, was like Mr. Miyagi’s from The Karate Kid. Josh was Daniel LaRusso in those situations, and there were a few “wax on, wax off” type of sessions.
“He didn’t understand what he was doing,” Faheem says of the Daniel LaRusso character. “He was like, ‘I’m not doing no karate.’ But he was doing it over and over again. When the light switch came on to get there he was like, ‘I got it.’”
And thus Josh’s football prowess has gone the way of Daniel’s crane kick. And that’s why Faheem stays on Josh. Faheem tells his son about the mistakes he made along the way — the mistakes he hopes Josh can avoid.
“He’s way better than I was and I was pretty good,” Faheem said. “Now he has the attitude to go along with it. He’s humble outside of the game, but when he gets on the field now he has a little more attitude. He’s realizing right now he’s better than a lot of guys out here.”
A couple players stood out to Josh when he was watching Kentucky last season: Garrett Johnson and Jeff Badet. The latter transferred to Oklahoma in the offseason, and Ali may have the chance to step up in his absence. Kentucky has depth at receiver, but playing time was a priority during Josh’s recruitment. Faheem said he’d be surprised if Josh redshirted.
Chaminade-Madonna coach Dameon Jones said the star receiver was a leader, but not vocally. It’s the same approach Josh wants to take at Kentucky.
“I don’t want to go up there acting like I’m that top guy,” Josh said. “I just want to be quiet, ease myself into it, and then when it’s that time I’ll do what I have to do.”
As for what that might look like?
“I have an attitude to where I’m gonna say like, ‘You can’t stop me,’ basically,” he said.
Josh committed to Kentucky before last season on June 27 after official visits to Kentucky and Central Florida. Almost a year later, with a gray Kentucky football lanyard draped around his neck, he spoke to SEC Country about his recruitment and what led him to Lexington.
He remembered the practice when Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran came down to watch. Another of Chaminade-Madonna’s top receivers wasn’t practicing, so Josh took over both spots. He had more routes and more balls thrown to him that day than usual.
Then came Kentucky’s offer.
“Eddie Gran did a heckuva damn job on recruiting,” Faheem said. “A lot of coaches don’t recruit anymore. Everybody’s stuck up on, ‘Hey, I got an offer from here, I got an offer from here.’ That’s not recruiting. Recruiting is not only getting to know the kid outside the football realm, but getting to know the family.”
Faheem did his research on Kentucky, and specifically Gran. He knew guys that played for him at Cincinnati and Florida State.
“Let me see if this guy is sitting back blowing smoke up the tail, or is this guy genuine and honest with what he’s talking about,” Faheem said. “Everybody I’ve talked to older and younger than me gave Eddie Gran an A+.”
Besides the bond with Gran, Josh said the chance to play in the SEC lured him to Kentucky, but Utah would’ve been his second college choice and he grew up an Oregon and Pac-12 fan. Former Ducks standout Josh Huff, whose college career spanned from 2010-13, was his favorite receiver to watch. Ali was listed as an “athlete” by 247Sports, but he smiled when asked what he’ll play at Kentucky — receiver, no doubt about it.
“His hands are superb for a high schooler,” Jones said. “You usually see that the second or third year a guy’s in college.”
Smooth is the word both Faheem and Jones use to describe Josh, but speed is what Josh wants to most improve before the season.
Josh said Kentucky’s players “felt like brothers” to him on his official visit. That familial feeling plus his relationship with Gran helped him feel firm in his decision, as did Kentucky’s seven-win season in 2016 capped with a win over Louisville in the regular-season finale.
“Seeing that and the class that’s coming in really made me want to go there even more,” Josh said. “I actually want to build my own legacy and help build that school to where it’s supposed to be.”
It’s not the first time Josh has tried to build his own legacy.
“There was one time Josh used to get mad,” Faheem recalled. “They called him ‘Little Ali’ or said, ‘That’s Faheem’s son.’ He would get mad at that, because he wanted it on his own.”
And now Josh Ali has it.
More from our Kentucky Next Generation series
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- Kentucky freshman Tyrell Ajian welcoming comparisons to Cats star safety
- Two-sport star Jordan Wright coming to Kentucky with lofty goals
- Sebastien Dolcine wants to be part of the ‘Mark Stoops era’ at Kentucky
- Kentucky football beat out LSU for DB Michael Nesbitt
- Eddie Gran’s persistence flipped DE Chris Whittaker to Kentucky
- Chance to play in the SEC lured Josh Ali to Lexington
- Still new to the game, Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald made an early impression on Kentucky
- Position promise gave Wildcats an edge with JaVonte Richardson
- Tyrell Ajian got the ‘gut feeling’ he needed from Kentucky’s coaches
- Big Ten schools stood out, but Wildcats proved best for LB Alex King
- Gone from a dying city, Kentucky CB Lonnie Johnson finds life in Lexington
- Top Kentucky football signee Lynn Bowden not focused on comparisons