His first season with the University of Wyoming football team wasn’t bad for wide receiver Raghib Ismail Jr., known as “Rocket.”
The junior college transfer, who began his career at TCU, caught 24 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Now a senior, Ismail is UW’s leading returning wide receiver in terms of yards and touchdowns, and second in catches (senior Austin Conway had 32).
But last season also was a struggle for Ismail.
“With knowledge comes comfort. That was my downfall last year was the lack of knowledge of the playbook. This year that has been my main focus,” he said.
“My personal goal is to remain focused and even keel throughout. Don’t get too high on the highs or too lows on the lows so I can be more consistent. Football for me last year was more of an outlet instead of something I love to do. There was a lot of life stuff that distracted me. My focus this year is to compartmentalize everything and approach the game as a professional so i can be reliable.”
On paper, Ismail is UW’s best big-play threat at wide receiver. His 11.1 yards per catch last season is the highest among the Cowboys’ returning receivers. A lot of things need to improve for UW in its passing game, and the wide receiving corps is one of them. Whether it is making more big plays, making the routine ones, getting open, catching the ball or blocking downfield, all need to be better.
It is fair to say that UW’s wide receivers have come under their fair share of scrutiny from fans and the media heading into this season. Ismail said that hasn’t effected him or his teammates.
“We live together, we die together,” he said. “With all the criticism and all the scrutiny, we never point fingers at each other. We keep each other’s heads up. We motivate each other. If one brother is down, the others pick him up. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen this year.”
Ismail’s nickname comes from his dad, Raghib Ismail Sr., who earned it when he starred at Notre Dame as a wide receiver and return specialist. Asked if he liked that nickname, Junior was quick with his response.
“I love it and wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said. “It is more than just a nickname. It is a family thing. It has opened a lot of doors, and provides a certain level of respect I have to live up to.”
UW’s final practice of fall camp is Saturday, but it has been working on its Aug. 31 opener against Missouri the last few days. Be sure to check out the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang Sunday as WyoSports’ 68-page UW football preview section comes out. It should be posted online at wyosports.net as well. Also in Sunday’s papers and at wyosports.net, I give you my five biggest takes from fall camp, as well as my top 20 players in the Mountain West this season. Two UW players made my list. Can you guess which two?