Florida International University cornerback Brad Muhammad knows what it’s like to sit in the relentlessly blazing Miami sun — for days, weeks, months and years — waiting for a chance to restart his dream.
For nearly four years, Muhammad, now 22, sat in the stands of FIU’s football stadium, alone, watching spring and fall practices, “taking mental notes.” Practice after practice, he would watch and then visit with FIU’s coaches, essentially begging for a chance to rejoin the team from which he had been dismissed.
This fall, Muhammad got the opportunity he has worked for, as new FIU coach Butch Davis allowed him back on the practice field. And on Sunday, Aug. 20, Davis shocked Muhammad, announcing in front of the entire team that the now former walk-on was being put on scholarship.
As those words left Davis’ lips, the entire FIU roster let out a huge roar in support of Muhammad, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior who is on pace to earn a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies next spring.
“When [Davis] mentioned my name, everything was a blur,” Muhammad said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Muhammad is the first male in his family to go to college, but he’s not the only one with significant athletic talent.
His mother, Tivica Muhammad, told the Miami Herald that the men in her family, dating back to Brad’s great-grandfather, have struggled with drugs and alcohol.
Brad’s grandfather, Lee “Bocat” Green, died in prison at age 47. He had lung cancer, and his death signaled the end of a sad story of wasted ability.
“When I was a little girl, my dad would point at the TV when [Olympic sprinter] Carl Lewis was on,” Tivica said. “My dad would say, ‘That was supposed to be me.’”
A hip injury derailed Green’s career, and he went down the wrong path, ending up serving time at Florida State Prison in Raiford for burglary.
Tivica, who said her brother squandered similar talent, visited her father in prison just a couple of days before his death. Brad was 6 at the time, and Green said he had a vision that his grandson “would be on TV.”
That “vision” changed Tivica’s life. She and her husband, David Johnson, converted to the Muslim faith. They soon changed their family name to Muhammad.
Brad Muhammad, who is in regular contact with his biological father, Brad Hyman, grew up in a loving family. As a high school senior, he put up big numbers as a wide receiver, catching 45 passes for 904 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also played corner and returned kicks, earning Class 2A first-team All-State honors.
Colleges largely ignored Muhammad, as well. He didn’t get his first offer until Dec. 8, 2012, of his senior season at St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut Academy on Florida’s Gulf Coast, when Charleston Southern made a bid.
On the first Wednesday of February 2013 — National Signing Day for tons of happy high school seniors — Muhammad was still holding out for a better offer.
Finally, when FIU’s coaching staff, led by Ron Turner at the time, offered him a glimmer of hope — not a scholarship but the chance to be a “preferred walk-on” — Muhammad headed for Miami.
He arrived at FIU just one week before the start of fall camp, yet vaulted up the cornerback depth chart as noted in an August 2013 Miami Herald story with the headline, “FIU walk-on makes quick impression.”
But seven games into his freshman season, Muhammad overslept and missed a walk-through practice. Turner dismissed Muhammad from the team for the rest of the season.
Muhammad admits that tardiness had been an issue with him.
“I understand where I was wrong, and I learned from it,” he said. “When my season ended, it took a big toll on me mentally. I wasn’t focused, and my grades dropped.”
Without a scholarship, the bills piled up for Muhammad, who took a job at the Starbucks on campus. He did this in addition to going to class, studying, working out and, of course, attending FIU practices.
“Some semesters, when I didn’t work because I had to focus on school,” Muhammad said, “I had to keep calling my parents so they could send money for pizza.”
Things got so bad at one point that Muhammad ran out of school loans and was effectively homeless, crashing at a friend’s house.
But despite his stated dedication to the FIU team, Turner never let him back on the roster.
Things started to change for Muhammad — in a major way — this past fall. On Oct. 10, he became a father to a baby girl, Zylah. Then, on Nov. 14, FIU hired Davis to replace Turner, who had been fired.
“When [Davis] was announced, I said, ‘Wow, he’s a legend,’” Muhammad said. “I wanted to pick his brain, and I also wanted tell him my story.”
Muhammad got the chance to do both this summer. Muhammad, along with his mother and several other family members, met with Davis, who agreed to allow him to practice with the team.
“Brad was relentless,” said FIU cornerbacks coach Eric Thatcher, revealing how Muhammad attended Panthers practices on his own.
Thatcher said Muhammad could be FIU’s starting nickel back in passing situations by the time the season opens Thursday at UCF in Orlando.
“He has a bright football mind,” Thatcher said of Muhammad, who has pulled his GPA up to a 2.4. “He brings up good questions in meetings, and it shows on the field. You never see him loafing.”
Having the coaching staff believe in Muhammad has been a “blessing,” according to his mother.
“When he got the scholarship, he called and said, ‘Mom, you don’t have to worry anymore. I can stay in school,’” Tivica said. “He was elated. … Our prayers have been answered.”