“When I was nine, my dad wanted me to play soccer. I played for a few months and didn’t like it. One day I was walking by the park and saw kids playing football. I went to my mom and asked her to give me some money for the tryout.
Right away, I just loved it.”
And so Mehdi Abdesmad’s journey to the National Football League began.
Growing up in Quebec, the defensive lineman learned from a local coaching system he credits heavily for his success to date, along with inspiring former teammates who have since gone on to establish themselves at the professional level. Abdesmad points to the likes of incoming Chiefs linebacker Andy Mulumba, whom he played with on his Vieux-Montreal CEGEP team, for presenting him, and all other aspiring Canadian football players, with a template to follow.
“Hard work will lead you where you want to go. Don’t be scared to go and compete with the best. You have to believe in yourself and what you can do – and what you will do, too.”
But Abdesmad, the son of Tunisian immigrants, also learned that hard work does not end on the field for a Canadian aspiring to play football south of the border. It would take more than talent to be seen by the right people.
“I didn’t have all the technology when I was in high school. What I did have was a DVD of my highlights that I shipped to all of the schools that one of my coaches [Spiro Feradouros] knew. That’s how I got noticed,” said the six-foot-six, 284-pound lineman, who encourages Canadian youth to take part in camps to gain exposure.
Extended scholarship offers by four Division I schools, Abdesmad ultimately decided to move over 500 kilometres away to join the Boston College Eagles, where he would need to learn how to speak English and live away from his tight-knit family. While those areas required patience and practice to develop and adjust to, one thing came easy: playing football.
“When you’re in Montreal, you look up to all these guys playing college ball. The first day I went on the field and started to play with them, I felt like I could compete. That dude that you will play against is doing the same thing that you do, he’s not superhuman.”
Abdesmad would go on to play in eight games as a true freshman before sustaining a knee injury that forced him to the sideline for all but seven games of the 2013 and 2014 seasons. As the Montreal native notes, it was his team off the field that helped him get back to his team on the field.
“That was really hard for me. It took all my strength and faith to rehab, but I didn’t stop because I knew that I could do it. My mom, coaches, sisters, friends, teammates – they really helped me get through it.”
Abdesmad not only pulled through it, but went on to start 11 games for the Eagles during the 2015 season, finishing with 5 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for loss – numbers strong enough to warrant honourable mention All-ACC honours and an invite to the 2016 NFL Combine.
“I was very happy. It’s something that happens once in a lifetime. Going through it, you meet a lot of coaches, players and personnel. It was cool to go there and experience it.”
The Montreal native did not disappointment, holding his own in what is widely considered one of the strongest defensive lineman classes in years.
“I was really pleased by my performance. That was the first time all season that I had the time to work on speed and strength because I was rehabbing in 2013 and 2014. When I went to my pro day, I had two more weeks to work on those things.”
Performing in front of representatives from 16 NFL teams at Boston College’s Alumni Stadium, Abdesmad posted numbers that exceeded his combine totals across the board.
Following his successful pro day, Abdesmad walked away from Chestnut Hill after five years marked with frustrations and triumphs, and headed home to Montreal, where he has been training and watching film as he prepares to tackle the next chapter in his football story.
“I’ve been home, spending a lot of time with my mom and two sisters. In the morning, I go running and then I lift. Twice a week I do yoga. Just trying to get ready to go to camp and compete with the guys,” said Abdesmad, whose draft weekend plans are reserved for those who have been by his side since the beginning.
“I will be home with my family and best friends. We’re going to have some food, play some games, watch television and that’s it. They’re really behind me, and having the chance to be with them makes it even better.”
And should he receive the call from an NFL team?
“That would be a blessing.”