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Khalid Kareem has unfinished business to handle

| Friday, October 11, 2019

Khalid Kareem has unfinished business.

The senior, a 2018 Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week and 2019 All-American hopeful, elected to return for his fourth and final year, forgoing an opportunity at the conclusion of his junior season to declare for the NFL Draft. He’s back to achieve the ultimate goal: the College Football Playoff National Championship trophy.

Emma Farnan | The Observer

Irish senior defensive lineman Khalid Kareem rushes the passer during Notre Dame’s 52-0 victory over Bowling Green on Oct. 5 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Kareem explained that he returned this year so he and his teammates would have a shot at “finishing where [they] left off.”

“I feel like we left a lot on the table in 2018,” Kareem said. “This is a national championship-caliber team. Also, I came here to graduate from Notre Dame and that’s what I plan on doing.”

Kareem himself played a large role in last year’s College Football Playoff (CFP) bid, recording eight quarterback hurries, 10.5 tackles for loss, 42 total tackles, five pass break-ups, four and a half sacks and a forced fumble across his 13 starts in the 2018 season.

Kareem has continued that trajectory this season, starting all five of Notre Dame’s games at defensive end. He’s already recorded two and a half sacks — second on the team only behind fellow All-American hopeful Julian Okwara — to go with seven solo tackles and 13 total tackles en route to his team’s 4-1 record.

Amid Notre Dame’s 52-0 beatdown of Bowling Green, Kareem led the team in quarterback hurries (two) despite playing for just two-and-change quarters. The shutout, the first the Irish have had since holding Michigan scoreless in South Bend in 2014, was a statement Kareem feels needed to be made.

“No matter who the opponent is, we have to step up and do our job,” he said. “As long as we keep the opponent to zero and our offense, let’s say they score even just three points, we win. We can go out there and dominate any opponent. We have to carry that out into the rest of our games.”

As one of Notre Dame’s seven captains this year, it’s Kareem’s job to make sure all of his teammates also have that bend-don’t-break mentality.

“I have the younger guys especially paying attention to me now. I’m trying to show them the right way, the right way to work,” he said. “But I know that I have to always be my best because someone’s always watching.”

Kareem knows how important being a role model is since he himself has learned so much from the players who have come before him.

“Mainly [I learned from] Isaac Rochelle. [Jonathan] Bonner, he was he was in our group my freshman year and then Jay Hayes. With them, it was learning how to work, really. Isaac was a captain, so I kind of got that from him. He wasn’t really the most vocal, but he was always doing things the right way,” Kareem said.

Kareem’s learned his fair share from the guys on the other side of the ball, too, with challenging matchups against his teammates on the offensive line in practice. He said that over the years, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson in particular have prepared him like no one else could.

“You’re going against the very best in practice, so it should be easier, going against the opponent. They’re two first-round offensive linemen, so they really helped me,” he said. “Going against Hainsey and Liam every day now? They help sharpen my game even more. I feel like they’d be doing me a disservice if they take it easy on me. They wouldn’t be making me better. I wouldn’t be making them better. We wouldn’t be helping each other out. So, I really appreciate them.”

That brotherhood is exactly what Kareem will miss the most after his graduation in May.

“The everyday memories I make in the locker room with my guys, that’s probably the best part about being here,” he said. “That’s probably what I’ll miss most when I leave, missing the guys I kind of grew up with, so to say.”

Family is everything for Kareem outside of football too, with his tight-knit unit at home acting as the driving force behind why he ended up at Notre Dame, just three hours away from his hometown of Detroit.

“I was committed to Alabama for about six months, but I realized it was really far for me and my family. I’m one of five children so that’d be pretty expensive for my family to come out and visit me every week for game days,” he said. “Notre Dame was the perfect fit for me and my family. It’s three hours away. It’s close enough to home where if they want to come out and see me, they can, but it’s far enough that I’m my own person.”

And Kareem intends to give his family ample opportunity to see him play, looking forward to leading his team to a 14-game season.

“We came to win a national championship. As long as we keep everything in focus, we should be fine.”

After all, Khalid Kareem has unfinished business.

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