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Education choice scholarship helps Khairi dream big

ROGER MOONEY

MIAMI GARDENS, Florida – Like nearly every football-playing high school senior in the country, Khairi Muhammad dreams of an All-American college career that leads to his selection near the top of the NFL Draft.

The desire fuels him, sometimes waking him in the middle of the night with a burst of adrenalin so strong he hops out of bed to do pushups.

Unlike nearly every football-playing high school senior in the country, though, Khairi, 18, is a newcomer to the sport. A wide receiver/cornerback, he didn’t begin playing until TRU Prep Academy started a football program when he was 16. Khairi attends the school on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship made possible by corporate donations to Step Up For Students.

“Football wasn’t my thing,” he said. “We weren’t a football family.”

“We didn’t even own a football,” added his mom, Andrea.

Despite not playing football until he was 16, Khairi has big goals for himself.

Originally, Khairi wanted to work out with the team – join them in the weightroom and on the field during the conditioning portion of practice. At the time, he was into mixed martial arts, rap music, hip hop dancing, and architecture. He studied buildings in Miami, went to architecture camp at the University of Miami and was a member of Black Architects in the Making. He planned on becoming an interior designer.

An honor student who finished the 2021-22 school year with a 4.6 GPA and 31 college credits through dual enrollment at Miami Dade College, Khairi figured he would earn an academic scholarship to college.

But the more time he spent with the football team, the more intrigued he became with the sport. After one practice, Khairi told his mom, “I think I want to play.”

“You serious?” Andrea asked.

He was, and he threw himself into the sport just as he threw himself into everything that interested him. Architecture? He carried a sketchbook and designed his own buildings. Hip hop dancing? He choreographed his own moves.

“I was one of those children who if I liked something, I jumped right into it,” he said. “I’d do 30 different things, because I liked those things. Football wasn’t one of those things for me. It became one of those things.”

That he and his siblings were homeschooled was a reason Khairi didn’t play football while growing up in Miramar, deep in football-crazy South Florida. Khairi wasn’t surrounded by classmates who played or teachers who coached the school team and could recruit him.

That would change when Andrea and her husband, Garthion, join the administration at TRU Prep, a K-12 private school in Miami Gardens with an enrollment of 100 students. Garthion is the dean of students and Andrea is the dean of academics and a high school instructor. The Muhammad’s met Mario Smith, TRU Prep’s founder and executive director in 2018.

A former football player at Monsignor Pace High School in Miami and at Kansas State University, Smith wanted to open a school that would stress athletics as a means to get to college, yet add areas of study like sports management, sports journalism, and sports medicine. Smith, who played in the Canadian Football League, knows how hard it is to continue playing football after high school. Offering those courses would allow students to have a sports-based career.

Andrea said Smith’s academic philosophy aligned with those of her and her husband, both of whom have extensive backgrounds in education. They accepted his job offers and enrolled their children.

Khairi and his parents, Garthion and Andrea.

Andrea is thankful Step Up For Students enables her to use education choice.

“I went to private school, so I understand the value of education, period, but definitely of private education,” he said. “I think if a parent wants to send their child to a smaller learning environment so they can have a model that works best for them, they should have that opportunity.”

Khairi said he quickly adjusted to life with classmates in a brick-and-mortar school.

“For me, it opened the opportunity to skyrocket academically,” he said. “Coming here, I was able to expand socially and academically.”

Khairi, who is 6-feet and 150 pounds, has drawn interest from a few NCAA Division III college programs. His goal this season is to play well enough to receive an offer from a Division I program, one that would offer better exposure to NFL scouts. He knows his lack of experience could hurt him since he’s being recruited from a talent pool that includes high school seniors who have been playing football since they were 5.

“You heard that saying, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ I have to be that ‘hard work,’ ” he said.

Because of that, Khairi isn’t pinning his future on football. He is just as interested in a career in sports journalism and sports medicine.

“You still have to go to school. You still have to get an education,” he said. “You still need that experience, still need to network, make connections. I can’t put all my eggs in one basket. I have to put a few here and a few here. This road that I’m on, if there is construction on it and it’s a dead-end, I have to be able to make that left or that right to keep going.”

Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at rmooney@SUFS.org.