New Jersey junior Kareem Ali is an explosive cornerback who has commanded interest from college football programs across the country. The Timber Creek High School star has collected scholarship offers from dozens of teams and is considering several options.
Ali, a 5'11", 175-pound prospect, is a playmaker on both sides of the ball. He helped Timber Creek (Erial, N.J.) reach the South Jersey title game last season, securing postseason honors and a U.S. Army All-American Bowl invite along the way.
The physical defender is a speedster who also shines on the track. Ali is clocked at 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to 247Sports.
He is rated No. 33 nationally among cornerbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings and No. 8 in the state. Ali received offers from Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Clemson and Pittsburgh prior to the start of his junior season.
More opportunities arrived at a rapid pace during the 2013 season and the months that followed. His list expanded to include Nebraska, North Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan State and Florida.
Ali recently spoke to Bleacher Report, revealing significant changes to his list of favorites. He also spoke about practicing against two of the country's top receivers and revealed which NFL player he models his game after.
Bleacher Report: Your recruitment has really heated up since last fall. How are you handling all the attention?
Kareem Ali: I'm not really focusing on it. Enjoying the time with my family and teammates right now. I'm focused on next season and not paying (recruiting) much mind. My coaches and my parents are telling me "Let it all fall in place and keep doing what you're doing."
B/R: Last month, you announced a list of your top eight college options (Michigan State, Louisville, Rutgers, North Carolina, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Temple and West Virginia). Does that list of favorites look different these days?
KA: It's kind of cut down a little bit. Rutgers is out of the picture. Temple—they're still in the picture but they're on the border. I really like Temple. I don't really want to count them all the way out. Pitt is counted all the way out right now ... Michigan State is also out of the picture. I have a couple more visits left—Florida, Louisville, North Carolina and West Virginia. Those four, including Maryland, are my top five.
B/R: You've made substantial changes to that list in the past month. What exactly are you looking for at the next level?
KA: Just a place that's a good fit for me, during college and after college. Whatever city it is, whatever state it is, I want to make sure that it's a fit for me and my family. A place that feels like home that's not too far from home. I've got to get my little brothers and my mom and my dad up to the games, so I don't want to be that far. I just want to feel comfortable and feel at home wherever I'm at.
B/R: When do you plan on visiting some of your favorites?
KA: North Carolina is going to be pretty soon, just because I'm on my spring break right now. Louisville and West Virginia will be in June. I'm trying to get down to Florida soon too, but I kind of doubt that one. That's a little pushing it. It won't hurt to go visit, though.
B/R: What stands out about Florida? You've eliminated some closer regional options but still have the Gators and Gainesville as a top choice.
KA: Just their history with defensive backs. They've put a lot of defensive backs in the league, especially (players) from up north. Joe Haden and his family. Jalen Tabor, who's also from Maryland. I talk to Jalen Tabor a lot and he just tells me, "They make it feel like home. They make it feel like I'm one of their sons." That's all the feedback he's given me. I think that's kind of why I still have Florida in the picture.
B/R: You've spent significant time defending Timber Creek teammates Adonis Jennings (4-star 2014 Pittsburgh signee) and Cam Chambers (4-star 2016 prospect, MaxPreps National Sophomore Player of the Year) during practice. What have the battles with those receivers been like?
KA: Me and Adonis used to go at it. I think I got the upper hand on him by probably two reps, but we always went at it. Me and Cam haven't gone against each other as much, but whenever we do I always teach him a lesson. It's never an easy catch. I don't remember the last time he had a catch actually.
B/R: Is there a cornerback in college or the NFL who you really try to replicate on the field?
KA: It has to be Darrelle Revis. Just because of the fact that he's a small DB like me and he doesn't back down from any challenge. He'll go against any receiver, any day. He's up for it. He plays the ball, he plays the man, he's a Pro Bowler trying to win a Super Bowl. He plays hard, came back from (an) ACL injury and went to the Pro Bowl this year. That says a lot, especially at DB. It tells me that his drive is repetitive. He doesn't stop.
Which top-five option is most likely to sign Kareem Ali?
B/R: You mention the size comparison (Revis is also 5'11"). How do you respond when people question if you're big enough to succeed in college as players get larger at the position?
KA: I play like (a big cornerback). I'm all 5'11", 175 pounds of me. That's that but I can play up to size no matter who the receiver is, no matter how big they are or how small they are. I go up against 6'3" receivers every day in practice. That right there just gives me a hint of what someone else could be like, someone bigger. A small DB (has an edge) because we get in their chest, and they don't know what to do. You need someone small and gritty to get inside of you. Receivers don't really know how to (match up with) me. I understand people say they don't want small corners...but we're feisty. It's not going to be easy.
B/R: Are you still waiting to see if any other programs offer a scholarship, or are you locked in with what you have now?
KA: There's no school I'm actually waiting on. I received every offer I actually wanted. I'm blessed to have that opportunity. Every school that I have in my top five are all my top schools—every one that I want to be in the equation and where I could see myself at. I couldn't see myself anywhere except for my top five.