Tarik Jalil speaks softly, but his smile and attitude carry more than enough volume.
In the last few years, the junior at Flowery Branch High has been through his, and a few other young athletes’, share of obstacles. He was given plenty of opportunities to break down, pout and give up.
Instead, he steadied his focus, displayed a positive outlook and made it back to where he wanted to be—the football field.
In the first game of his freshman season at Mill Creek High, Tarik was running down the field and planted his left leg to turn. He felt a pop in his knee and hit the ground.
The team’s trainer said he thought it was a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee. An MRI a few days later confirmed it.
The injury would require surgery and extensive physical therapy. His freshman season was over.
“I didn’t really know what that was,” he said. “I never thought I’d have a big injury like that. When they told me how long it would take to heal, it really upset me.”
But he didn’t linger on that feeling for long. He knew he had important work in front of him.
Tarik’s mom, Habibah, brought him to Egleston hospital for his surgery. Soon after, Tarik started physical therapy at Children’s at Suwanee.
“It was hard at first, having to go there instead of practice,” Tarik said. “Once everything started coming back and my knee started to feel better, I just rolled with it.”
After nearly a year, Tarik was ready to get back to the field. Unfortunately, his first comeback would be short lived.
During the first day of a football camp before his sophomore season, he felt another pop in his left knee. As soon as he had difficulty bending his knee, he knew he had torn his ACL again.
His sophomore season was over before it started. Habibah could not believe her son’s misfortune.
“It was surreal,” she said. “But he was telling me that it was going to be OK. He was just ready to start the process again.”
So start it he did. He went through another surgery. He went through another round of physical therapy, this time at Children’s at Hamilton Mill.
“I don’t believe he ever complained about having bad luck over the past two years,” said Allison Smith, P.T., D.P.T., M.T.C., A.T.C. “He approached every new challenge with diligence and commitment.”
In August 2014, Habibah was with her sons at the dentist’s office when she received a call from work. The family’s house was on fire.
When they arrived at the house, it was still burning. The loss was complete. The family was only able to save a few pieces of clothing.
“It was devastating,” Habibah said. “I just didn’t think it could happen to us.”
Despite another setback, Tarik held on to his positive attitude. He became the steady foundation that his family needed most.
“He always told me it was going to be OK,” Habibah said. “He just knew it was. Through the whole thing, he was so positive and optimistic.”
Tarik’s team and the Flowery Branch community rallied around the family, finding them a house and furniture inside of a month. The cornerback with the big smile was not going to have to miss any playing time.
Tarik says the football field is where he goes to forget about everything else. It is his sanctuary.
But when life threw punch after punch toward him, on and off the field, he was able to push his heels down and keep moving forward by maintaining a single belief.
“I knew I had somewhere to go,” he said. “I knew where I wanted to go in life.”