Player Feature: Azeez Al-Shaair
Recipient of the N4A Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award, which honors student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic, and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics.
Al-Shaair grew up in a family of nine, with his mother, Naadhirah, supporting him and his seven siblings. In 2012, struggling to make ends meet, the family moved into their grandmother's home in Tampa, FL. One night, Al-Shaair awoke to the smell of smoke engulfing the house. He was able to wake up and lead the rest of his family to safety, as they watched the house burn down. The family moved from place to place before settling in an extended-stay motel. Al-Shaair chose to sleep on the floor, as the family had to fit into one room. He trekked two hours by bus each day to attend school and football practice, often only eating once a day, making sure any leftover food went to his mom and siblings. His work ethic on and off the field grew in that adversity. "My mom always told me, 'What's meant for you is meant for you,'" Al-Shaair said. "All you can do is put forth the effort, and I believe that I've done that."
While at Florida Atlantic, Al-Shaair decided to move his two younger brothers, Abdul-Lateef and Abdur-Rahmaan, into his Boca Raton apartment. Constantly worrying about whether they were eating or getting into trouble, Al-Shaair began to serve as the father figure of the household. "They were doing bad in school with their grades. I moved them here to put them in a different environment," said Al-Shaair
Read more about Azeez Al-Shaair by clicking his bio below.
Coach's Corner: DeMeco Ryans
This month's "Coach's Corner" comes from 49ers Linebackers Coach, DeMeco Ryans.
What was the most impressive thing you noticed from rookie linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair in 2019?
I think the most impressive thing about Dre and Azeez was really the way they progressed throughout the year. It's cool to think about where they started to where they ended up. I think Dre ended up becoming one of our best linebackers. And with Azeez, he just kept progressing. We moved him around and he really handled the transition, he handled the ups and downs of the season really well especially as a rookie coming in. He handled a lot of the uncertainties and was able to be even-keeled throughout the year. I'm impressed with both of them, their maturity level and how they grew throughout the year.
What did it mean for the team when a player comes back from a significant injury like LB Kwon Alexander at such a crucial point in the season?
I think with Kwon coming back, he just brings a different fire, a different energy to our entire team, not just the linebackers, but the entire team. He does a good job with being pumped up with energy, but also going out and performing at a high level which means a lot to everyone.
What did you see from LB Fred Warner as a player and as an emerging leader in year two?
What I saw from him, you'd think he's a veteran. I forget that it was his second year. The way he progressed, he's, of course, a mature guy and carries himself so well. He's all business all the time. You did see Fred progress throughout the year. To me, I thought he was one of the top linebackers in the league last year. I think he proved that and he has more to prove. I think he got a taste of being one of the top guys, what it takes, week in and week out. Fred is consistent, he's dependable, he's tough, he's relentless. He's everything you want in a linebacker.
After a great season in 2019, what can fans expect from this LB group next season?
I think next year fans can expect to see another step, another level of growth with these guys. With them being able to be here a second year, playing together as a group, I see ease of communication. I just see guys being able to play more relentless, freer and make the defense more of their own. I saw that step this year and I see them taking an even bigger step next year having that comradery of being able to play together. It means a lot.
How did your successful playing career translate into coaching and connecting with the players?
I've been there so I can help them. I think playing really helped me when we're talking in the room about life skills, not only football. Football will take care of itself, but being in their position with things that happen off the field. I've been there, I can relate to the guys and I can give them some good advice because of the things I've been through.
To read more about Coach Ryans, click his bio below.
WON of Us: Kathy Hughes
My inspiration started early in life. I'm an only child and my parents are immigrants of the Azores. They came to America to live the "American Dream" and that they did! After settling and learning American football, my father would often drive me to 49ers games from Humboldt County as a kid. It would often take us five hours to get to Candlestick. My Father is the reason why I'm such a huge fan and have remained a Faithful ever since!
What do you love about WON?
I became a WON Member when the women's club launched back in 2012. There were only a few hundred of us back then. It's wonderful to see thousands of women that have since joined! I honestly believe that women are just as passionate about football as men are, but society doesn't always see it that way. WON is a place where you can meet other female fans that are incredibly educated and enthusiastic about football. It's a safe haven where we can learn from and encourage one another, all while building lifelong friendships. For me, it's more of a sisterhood that encourages bonding in a sport that we all know and love.
Get to know WON member Kathy.
Was there one inspirational moment in team history that confirmed your 49ers fandom?
Not so much as a historical moment, but more of an inspirational memory. It happened when I was a teenager. My girlfriends and I had made a special sign that read, "EUREKA LOVES YA 49ERS!" I really don't remember how, but I managed to get on the field to hang it up. I succeeded about halfway through my mission when I was met by security, police, and countless others, who were ready to escort me right back to my seat! As fate would have it, as I was being escorted, we came across Eddie DeBartolo Jr. himself! He gave me permission to hang my sign and shared a smile. The rest is history! I knew at that moment, that my team and this entire organization were truly a class act. I'll cherish that memory forever!
What 49ers tradition or superstition do you/your family have?
I'm not really big on superstitions. I'm just a "go with the flow" kind of gal. I honestly believe that what is meant to happen, will happen!
What impact has the 49ers had on your life?
The 49ers have greatly impacted my life throughout the years. I can remember when I volunteered and worked on Measure J, to build a new stadium in Santa Clara. It made me realize that through hard work and determination, anything is possible. Just like our players proved this past season! This team has also taught me about fairness, how to win or lose with dignity, how to become the best possible role model and how to practice patience and humility. When you think of being a 'team player' or 'working as a team,' you can accomplish almost anything you set out to do! You can apply this concept to all areas of your life, just like our team does. I'm grateful for all of the mistakes and learning experiences that I've been taught and continue to grow from and most of all the friendships, have built with my fellow WON members!
Community Connection: 50/50 Raffle
During the 2020 NFL Playoffs, the 50/50 Raffle at Levi's® Stadium broke the California State Raffle Record not once but twice! For the NFL Divisional Round 49ers vs Vikings game, the record previously held by the Los Angeles Dodgers was broken with $194,280 raised. Just eight days later, 49ers fans in attendance for the 49ers vs Packers NFC Championship game on Sunday, January 19 helped break the record again by raising $280,520. For both games, the beneficiary of the 50/50 raffle was the 49ers Foundation. The money raised will help fund the 49ers Foundation's two direct programs, 49ers PREP presented by U.S. Bank and 49ers EDU. Both programs seek to educate and empower underserved Bay Area youth.
This Month in 49ers History
A look at marquee moments throughout the team's rich history pulled from the 49ers Archives.
March 31, 1962
John Taylor, a dangerous receiver and punt returner for the 49ers from 1987-1995, was born in Pennsauken, New Jersey. Taylor cemented his name in NFL history when he snagged the game-winning touchdown pass at Super Bowl XXIII with 34 seconds remaining to lift the 49ers to a 20-16 victory over Cincinnati. The 49ers selected Taylor out of Delaware State in the third round of the 1986 NFL Draft. In nine seasons with the 49ers, he hauled in 347 regular season receptions for 5,598 yards and 43 touchdowns. Taylor earned two Pro Bowl berths.