-I had no idea what American Football was.
Absolutely no clue.
“I was a little boy who grew up in Laval, Quebec. My parents wanted me to play soccer, that was the only sport that they were familiar with. After a year playing that sport just for the sake of it, I was on my way home when I saw a bunch of boys my age playing football at the park. I ran to my mother and asked if she can pay for the tryout fees and she didn’t have the choice but to agree”.
Little did he know, a love story was about to happen.
We all know that football is a cultural thing in North America. It is the sport that gets transmitted from one generation to the next but your story with football was like no other. You didn’t have anyone to introduce this sport to you. So technically, you were meant to be a football player. What attracted you most to this sport when it first was introduced to you?
-The first thing that struck my attention when I started playing football was that I was able to let all of my energy out on the field. It’s an indescribable feeling, really, you get to use all of your power and let everything out. Kids are usually very hyped so for me, football was my niche to express myself the way I wanted to. I remember my coach had me try out as a defensive end so I played DE for a while then switched to linebacker and now I’m back on the defensive end full time.
You are without a doubt an athlete of influence but behind every athlete of influence there is usually someone that influenced them to achieve greatness. Who were these people to you?
-My parents were the key to everything I have achieved till this day. My father was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 16 years old. He was waiting for me after practice one day and on the way home we had to stop for groceries and all of a sudden, he was not able to recall the pin of his debit card. The morning after, my father woke up with a severe headache. I remember my mother taking him to the hospital where he was diagnosed right away. They found out he had a brain tumor. He underwent three consecutive brain surgeries…then he passed away. It was the toughest moment of my life, my role model, the man I looked up to, I have never imagined that it could happen to my father. Having to live that moment at the age of 16 was a very devastating experience to go through but nonetheless, it shaped me to become the man I am today.Every time I go through a setback, a hardship or a turnover, I look up to my father, this courageous strong soul that despite the fact that he was given a few months to live, he kept on being resilient, did his best to not make us feel his pain. He is the strongest person I have ever known and will always be.
Boston College was undoubtedly a big opportunity for you. I know you have mentioned previously that you had many offers coming out of Cegep du Vieux Montreal which is one of the best football teams in Quebec. Why did you chose Boston College in particular and how was your college football experience?
-Honestly, one of the main reasons why I went to Boston College was because it was close to home. Obviously it’s a great school but I didn’t want to stay far away from my family especially after what we went through. The experience itself was great but the atmosphere was acutely stressful and this is something that new players coming into college have to get prepared for. Like you cannot make a mistake because your coach will make you pay for it at every practice, every game. You have to be really good. Like when you’re a football player, you don’t have the opportunity to study as much as the average student. You have classes but it kind of goes second to football. The sport always comes first in college football. Especially if you’re on a scholarship, they kind of bet on you. They spend all that money on you and expect a lot in return. You don’t have the same academic opportunity as the rest of the students but you still have to pass your classes in order for you to keep playing and since you’re not paid and you can’t work because of the busy schedule, you’re broke for four years. This is just the reality of it.
-But of course there are many pros to it, like you’re surrounded with people of experience, these guys have coached for many years so they have a lot to bring to the table. There is also study halls and tutors at your availability. There’s also spring football which is an opportunity that I have personally enjoyed a lot. You get to train off season and you get a lot of chances to prepare for what could be next–professional play. You also have a lot of exposure. There is a lot of scouts that come and watch you play so it’s fun.
While we’re at it, how do you define mental toughness?
-Being mentally tough is when you master resilience at an elite level. I remember getting injured while in Boston. I think it was the second worst pain after my father’s death that I have ever felt. I was crying from my heart and thought I could never play again, I owe a lot to my mother, my support system that was there for me and pushed me to have the necessary faith to trust the process. In every competitive play, there is a lot to take in. That’s when mental toughness takes part. Now while it’s important to be strong and push through, if a player is not constantly feeling well , it is crucial for him to sit down and speak with someone they feel comfortable talking to. We all go through tough moments and part of the audacity is to speak up about our problems.
‘If a player is constantly not feeling well , it is crucial for him to sit down and speak with someone they feel comfortable talking to. We all go through tough moments and part of the audacity is to speak out about your problems.’
Now off to your NFL career, the dream of every football player on earth.Tell us more about that.
-Well professional career didn’t start the way I expected it to happen. I first went undrafted as a free agent, so I had to keep persevering. And that itself was a blessing in disguise because I ended up proving that I was worthy of a spot and that’s when my journey with the Titans started.
What would your life be if you haven’t played football and what have sports taught you?
-It’s hard to imagine life without sports because it really does shape who you are, like everything you do. But I would have probably gone into pharmacology and opened up a pharmacy with my older sister. Sports taught me to maintain my good values and carry them with me wherever I go. I have learned tremendous values on the field that I still apply off field. What sports do is that they shape who you are and you have no choice but to carry whatever is that you learned with you for the rest of your life.
‘What sports do is that they shape who you are and you have no choice but to carry whatever is that you learned with you for when you start a new job or a new business or simply success in every aspect of your life.’
What do you tell your young self and the young players that aspire to be like you?
-I would tell the young Mehdi that obstacles will come his way and that he has to be ready to tackle them the best way possible. I would also say that hard work will always be rewarding. It is inevitable. We often only see what’s in front of us and if we don’t like what we see, we lose faith but success and rewards might be just around the corner.
This is a Canadian Athletes of Influence Series, I cannot finish this interview without asking you what is an athlete of influence to you and how do you define him or her?
-An athlete of influence is an individual that serves as a great example to follow on and off court, someone that takes what they have learned in sports very seriously and acts upon that in real life. So many people look up to athletes and that’s one of the most beautiful powers of sports. Athletes need to acknowledge that what they do in real life is as important as what they do on the field.
Mehdi is without a doubt a great demonstration of audacity and resilience, not only to Canadians athletes but to all players. I was glad to share his story for the rest of the world to see.