Ali Mourtada moved with his family from Sierra Leone, West Africa which was wrought by civil war to Foxboro, MA when he was 4 years old. 12 years later he was on the student-council excelling in school, basketball and football at Foxboro HS just minutes away from Gillette Stadium. Ali kicked throughout college and earned a degree in psychology. Following college, Mourtada has spent time in the AFL and IFL with the Las Vegas Outlaws and Wichita Falls Knighthawks. Most recently, Ali worked out for the Cleveland Browns and was selected to participate in the 2017 Spring League. He is currently kicking for the Massachusetts Pirates of the NAL
Ali, thanks for taking the time to meet with me. It’s been a quite a road for you since you began your football career. Take us through your journey and how you ended up back in Mass playing for the Pirates.
Its my pleasure to join and be featured here on the Wizard Kicking Blog. It has been quite the journey to say the least. I played 4 years at Division II Pace University. I came in and was the starting kicker, kickoff and punter from my freshman year. Unfortunately during camp of my sophomore campaign I tore my quad which set me back, and if that wasnt enough I retore it my junior year 2 weeks before training camp started. It was a blessing in disguise I guess because it brought training and recovery to the forefront of my mind to make sure I did everything in my power to stay healthy. That took reading and learning from those smarter than me.
After my four years at Pace University I decided to spend my Graduate Year a little closer to home at Assumption College. I was the kickoff specialist at Assumption and did alright for myself. I believe 60-70% of my kickoffs went for touchbacks. From there I took the leap. Decided to move out to Arizona and train year round in preparation for combines held by Gary Zauner (located in AZ) and Michael Husted (located in San Diego at the time). My first year out, I did well at these combines but no opportunity arised. As I prepared for the following years NFL opportunities I would attend any open tryouts I could (AFL/CFL). Again I did well at these workouts but did not receive an opportunity until winning a Field Goal competition which brought me into camp with the Las Vegas Outlaws of the Arena Football League. That opportunity was not long lasting, after playing one game I was released and moved back to AZ.
About a month later I moved back home to MA before receiving a call to go play the last 4 games of the IFL season with the Witchita Falls Nighthawks. After the season and working for a few months, I decided to go and train with Michael Husted. I saw the talent out in California and figured if I surrounded myself with talent like that then I would elevate my own game. After training there for a few months, I qualified for the Zauner Free Agent Combine in 2016. It was progress because the year prior I did not qualify to kick for the coaches and scouts. After returning to work and live in AZ I continued to train and attend combines. After the 2017 Husted Combine I received an invite for a private workout with the Cleveland Browns. I had a solid showing but nothing came after that. It has been a little over a year since then, in that time my father has passed away and being away from family has been tough. So when the opportunity came to return home and play football with the MA Pirates of the NAL, I jumped on that opportunity. As I write this it puts the journey into perspective. It is all about growth. Not only in kicking but as a person, kicking has just been the craft I chose to express myself.
You have worked with several great instructors and mentors over the years. I know that Nick Lowery has been influential to you. Can you tell us a little about that?
I have truly been fortunate to work with so many great coaches. It is interesting bc I did not have any form of coaching until after I graduated college. Including Michael Husted, Mike Hollis, Sam Watts and most recently Nick Lowery. Everyone has taught me something and brought more and more out of me. Nick is a Hall of Fame kicker. There are a lot of people who can kick but what makes someone a Hall of Famer. It is mentality, focus and the approach to make every kick the most important one. Focus, intention and trusting the swing are key aspects I took from Nick. Each coach has challenged me in a different way whether it be physically or mentally.
Drive and perseverance are key elements in becoming an NFL kicker. What keeps you driven?
Gratitude and love. What do I mean when I say that? People tend to focus so much on what the negatives are. On things they cannot control. In college my good friend DJ Henry was shot and killed unjustly. After witnessing that my whole life was flipped. It was when I made the decision to go after what I wanted to accomplish no matter the “odds”. I went all in and focused on the preparation each day. I sought people out to help me improve and I applied all that I learned. Each day is a blessing. I have found myself being caught up in accomplishing the end result that it has become tough. Over the past couple years I have fallen in love with the craft and the process once again with no expectation. I guess thru the love of the process its easy to stay driven. Always learning always growing.
Congratulations on becoming a certified personal trainer. Was that always a dream of yours or did you fall into that thru a different path?
Its interesting. Growing up, I always admired trainers. I remember wanting to be one although it was not at the forefront of my mind. My closest friend was someone whos passion was training and almost everything I know I have learned from him. It was because of him I was able to make the move to AZ the first time. He had moved out there to work as a trainer and had a place for me to stay as well as a job. After my finals in Graduate School I had 2 weeks to study and take the test to be certified. Although thats probably not the best way to go about it, I passed and since then have continued to learn and develop as a trainer. I figured, the more I learned about training I could continue to improve as a kicker. Especially after having injuries, it was nice to understand why I got injured and also how to come back from any ailments.
There are fine lines that separate the elite athletes from the rest. One of those is Mental Toughness. How do you stay mentally tough?
Being present I would say is our greatest ally as kickers. Trusting all the hours youve spent training and preparing will allow you to perform when it is time. If you know youve down your best in preparing its easy to let it happen. You can see who puts in that time and effort. That is not only physically but also mentally. Books such as the Inner Game of Tennis (recommended to me by Nick) has brought more awareness to what we all think during competition. And how we overcome those mental processes.
Many athletes visualize before they perform. Do you have any rituals before a game or just before you go in to kick?
It has been quite some time since I have been in a game situation. I have recently adopted a breathing technique in the morning called the Wim Hof method. It is something I came across a couple months ago but recently started to incorporate into my daily routine and pregame routine. The technique calls for conscious breathing as well as cold therapy. What ive found with the method is increased energy and focus all with breathing. Like I mentioned before. Being present is our greatest ally as specialists.
A kicker must have a strong, flexible core. How do you keep your core in shape? Do you have a favorite drill or stretch?
I know guys practice many core exercises and training methods. Especially Pilates. Which I think is great. As for me, it is all about awareness. Being able to maintain core engagement while moving my joints without compensation. The technique I implement strengthens my muscles at their weakest points (the longest and shortest). For example, when touching my toes, I do not think about stretching my hamstrings, but rather, squeezing my abs and my quads to pull me into the position. By doing so I am shortening those muscles in front as much as possible. The bodies response to this is cramping in those muscles. I allow those muscles to cramp for a good 10 seconds before coming out of it. The muscles will cramp because they are not used to engaging in that position with control so they “freak out”. By doing this, I am actually reprogramming my muscles and what they are capable of.
List of Favorites
Food: Homemade Grapeleaves
TV show: Game of Thrones
Musical artist/band: Kendrick Lamar
Video game: FIFA
Sports team: New England Patriots
Sports movie: Remember the Titans
MLB Player : Big Papi
NBA Player: Paul Pierce
NHL Player : Tuka Rask (Hes a Bruin and has a cool name lol)
MLS Player: Landon Donovan (no connection just know of him, and he might play overseas now)
Sportscaster: Kenny Mayne
THE REMAINDER OF THE QUESTIONS ARE EASY… CHOOSE 10 OR 15 OF THE FOLLOWING AND I’LL WORK IT INTO THE INTERVIEW
Would you rather spend five days exploring Disney or New York City? Disney
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received? Dont take life too seriously
What’s your favorite smell in the whole world? Subway freshbaked bread
What do you think is the greatest invention of all time? Wizard Kicking Sticks
Would you rather win an Olympic medal, an Academy Award or the Nobel Peace prize? Nobel Peace Prize
What’s your favorite time of day? Early Morning Sunrise
What’s your favorite season? Summer
If you could go back in history, who would you like to meet? Jesus
What’s something most people don’t know about you? I practice an ancient Japanese healing practice Reiki
If you could be a cartoon character for a week, who would you be? Road Runner
When you were just starting out, who did you try to emulate? Adam Vinatieri
What was it like living in the town you grew up in? It was a small town without much to do. Backyard football and playing basketball at the park is what took up most of my time
What were you like in high school? I was an athlete. Although I had friends, I always felt sort of like and outsider. I always turned to sports.