Photo caption: Irvington High School senior Ali Abbas, seated middle, signed with the University of Buffalo during a ceremony on Friday, June 17. Seated with Abbas are his mother, Mariama Yusifu, left, and sister, Amina Abbas. Standing from left are IHS head football coach Ashley Pierre, IHS athletic academic advisor Stephanie Kaplan, IHS athletic director Yvonne Sheard, IHS athletic department adminstrative assistant Gwen Murray, Abbas’ brother, Mustapha Abbas, and Abbas’ cousin, Mariam Kassimu.
Irvington High School senior safety Ali Abbas signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his football career at the University of Buffalo on a Division 1 athletic scholarship during a ceremony in the IHS auditorium Friday morning, June 17.
With classmates and friends sitting in the audience, Abbas was joined on stage with his family. Also in attendance were school officials and administrators, as well as IHS football coaches, led by new head coach Ashley Pierre.
During the ceremony, a video of Abbas’ highlights during his IHS career was shown.
Yvonne Sheard, who took over as IHS athletic director in September, addressed the audience and spoke of IHS’ rich tradition of athletes being successful and the school’s desire to continue that tradition. Sheard also stressed the important message of “students first, athletes second” and that Abbas embodied that notion.
“It’s important to be first a good person and a good student and that is why (Abbas) is successful,” said Sheard to the audience.
Sheard also spoke of her vision to have Abbas return to the Irvington community as a model athlete so that young students can look up to him.
Pierre next addressed the audience, recalling how Irvington coaches first met Abbas as a 14-year-old eager to learn and get better as a player, and worked hard in achieving that goal. Pierre also noted how Abbas developed into an excellent student in the classroom and made Honor Roll.
“That is the kid that he has always been,” said Pierre of Abbas’ devotion to academics. “It wasn’t what he could do on the football field; we knew what he could do in the classroom.”
Pierre, who grew up in Irvington and was named the new Blue Knights head coach in April, also mentioned how the Blue Knights have produced many players who have earned Division 1 scholarships. “He is up there (on stage) because of who he is; not what he has produced on the field, but what he is as a person,” Pierre said. “Ali has a bright future ahead of him. He is going to play Division 1 football at the University of Buffalo. But more importantly, once he is done, he is going to be somebody special… He has the drive and he is going to (do) that work.”
Pierre spoke of how special this moment was for everyone in Abbas’ life.
Pierre said he expects to see more IHS players like Abbas on stage signing Letters of Intent.
“This sets the tone of where we want the program to be,” he said in his speech. “We don’t want to add just one guy next year. We want to add five or six guys up here (on stage). We want this to become common.”
But to accomplish that goal of players earning Division 1 scholarships, it starts in the classroom, noted Pierre.
Pierre said everyone “is proud of you,” as he addressed Abbas.
Pierre also cited linebacker Khalil Mack, who was drafted fifth overall by the Raiders in 2014 out of the University of Buffalo.
IHS assistant coach and alum Nhemie Theodore also delivered a speech, citing how Abbas has grown on and off the field. Theodore, a defensive tackle and 2004 IHS graduate, went on to play at the University of Minnesota.
The ceremony ended with friends and family taking photos of Abbas with his family and supporters.
Abbas will play in the 38th annual Phil Simms New Jersey North-South High School Football Senior All-Star Classic on Monday night, June 27, at Kean University in Union. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.