Underrated Rusher Picked Game up From 49ers Great & S.F. 2021 Rookie

Aldon Smith

Getty Aldon Smith before a December 20, 2014 49ers game.

The 2021 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year Ali Fayad has surfaced on NFL boards after unleashing his fury of pass rush moves in the Group of Five conference.

Fayad never learned how to dominate on his own. In fact, he told Heavy in an exclusive interview that he learned from watching his beloved San Francisco 49ers all the way from Dearborn, Michigan — then later gained nuggets from a future 49ers player who he lined up against during Western Michigan practices.

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Fayad Influenced by Past 49ers Great

Even though his local television stations showed more Detroit Lions games, the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder spent his time idolizing names like Ahmad Brooks, Navarro Bowman, Patrick Willis and the man he says he drew his pass rushing inspiration from: Aldon Smith.

“Those were all my guys. (But) I remember watching Aldon in a Monday Night Football game versus the Chicago Bears and he went off for 5 sacks. He ended that season with 19.5 sacks and I was like ‘This is my guy,'” Fayad said.

After scrutinizing Smith’s game, Fayad said he went off on opponents during his last prep campaign at Dearborn High.

“My senior year in high school, I shot for 19.5 sacks but I ended up getting 21 sacks just because of (watching) him,” Fayad said.

Fayad, though, endured a quiet recruiting process. According to 247Sports, only three college programs offered him a scholarship. But there’s more: Two MAC programs, that eventually became his rivals on the field, were telling him he wasn’t an ideal fit.

“A lot of teams said I wasn’t big enough, I wasn’t fast enough, and I didn’t have the measurables that the other guys did,” Fayad said. “I remember, vividly, getting the Bowling Green text that my high school d-line coach sent me saying that my get-off wasn’t good enough. Plus Central Michigan talking about how I was too small.”

But that only ignited Fayad’s inner fire for the rest of his career.

“Things like that became wood to my pit. I was just burning fire all within me,” Fayad said.

On top of taking what he learned from watching Smith on television, Fayad gained more gridiron knowledge by lining up against a future fifth rounder across the line of scrimmage in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Battles With the No. 155 Overall Pick

Fayad’s next obstacle: A 6-foot-5, 315-pound All-MAC selection — who he had to line up against constantly.

Jaylon Moore and Fayad had their trench encounters every day in practice. Moore eventually became the No. 155 overall selection to the 49ers in the 2021 draft. Fayad credits his experiences tangling with Moore as helping shape up his dominance in the MAC.

“That helped me tremendously. Jaylon Moore is a great player and fantastic leader. Going up against him every single day in practice was like going up against the best guy I’ve played all year,” Fayad said. “Going up against him then going into a game, he prepared me so well. He takes his craft very seriously. For me to go against him in the years I did was just a blessing.”

Can he Become Next Stout MAC Edge Rusher?

This is the time of year when teams gravitate toward the prospects who played in the Power Five realm, including the neighboring P5 conference to the MAC the Big 10.

But Fayad wants to remind fans that the MAC has produced its share of NFL stars. Currently, the NFL has past MAC great Maxx Crosby (Eastern Michigan) of the Las Vegas Raiders emerging as one the league’s top young talents at defensive end.

Fayad leaves WMU with 33.5 career sacks. He has this claim that most edge rushers in this class don’t have: He sacked the potential first quarterback taken in the upcoming draft Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh.

“Kenny Pickett is a slippery athletic guy,” Fayad recalled. “I was getting there a lot of times and he just kept running and running. Then in the fourth quarter, I was able to make that play. It felt phenomenal to wrap him up and get him to the ground. At the end of the day, though, I loved every single sack that I was able to get.”

Fayad is part of a loaded group of available edge rushers come April 28 — with the first overall pick pointing to defensive end Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan. Fayad knows he’s an underdog in that group of edge defenders, but that title has given him his fuel.

“All I’ve got to do is get on that field and all the chips will fall as they may, I promise you that,” Fayad said. “It’s part of being the underdog…and I’ve embraced it. I’m just ready to dominate.”

And again, his dominance comes from watching his favorite 49er and playing with a future one.

“Just watching those guys and taking what they did and putting it in my arsenal helped me out a lot,” Fayad said. “I really trust my skills and I can definitely contribute to the 49ers.”

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