Rocket who? New team learns about Ismail Jr. and his dad

By Brandon Foster - Casper Star-Tribune
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LARAMIE, Wyo. — Wanna feel old? Most of the members of the Wyoming football team hadn’t heard of Rocket Ismail Jr.’ dad when he signed with the Cowboys.

“Honestly, I didn’t know anything about his dad,” junior receiver Austin Conway said. “I had met his dad, and they were telling me who he was, and I went back and watched the (Colorado) 30 for 30 and I really realized, ‘Oh, that was his dad.’ I didn’t know.”

“I had known he had a pretty nice nickname,” sophomore receiver Jared Scott said, “and I was wondering where he got that from. And I kind of got the history behind that.”

The history, as we college football fans who are old enough to recall Y2K are aware, is that the elder Raghib “Rocket” Ismail was a star receiver and returner for Notre Dame, finishing second in the 1990 Heisman Trophy voting, before going on to play in the NFL and CFL.

“(Receivers coach Mike) Grant let us know who he was,” junior receiver C.J. Johnson said. “I think my dad mentioned something to me as well. I mean, he definitely got all the athletic ability from somewhere.”

Both Grant and Johnson’s father played college ball at Nebraska in the ’90s. Grant said he almost roomed with Ismail on a visit to Notre Dame.

By the time the current class of Cowboys were born, though, Ismail’s professional career had nearly ended. Wyoming offensive coordinator Brent Vigen joked that he was disappointed in today’s youth for not knowing Ismail Jr.’s father.

But Wyoming hasn’t been disappointed in Ismail Jr.’s showing this fall camp.

“Rocket has the playmaker ability, for sure,” Scott told the Casper Star-Tribune. “We’ve just been trying to get him in quick and learning as much as he can, especially with the offense. But with Rocket’s ability and speed, he can make those long plays for us for sure. Like everyone in our room, we’re trying to get our consistency up, but we definitely like Rocket’s game and where he can fit in with us.”

Ismail was a late addition to Wyoming’s 2018 signing class. The Cowboys were expecting to sign three-star California prep receiver J.J. Tucker on National Signing Day, but he flipped to Oregon at the last minute after the Ducks wound up needing a receiver.

Instead, the Cowboys brought on Ismail, a Cisco (Texas) College transfer who had planned on signing with Northern Colorado.

“We were on him for a while,” Vigen said of Ismail. “That was the next guy we were going to go on for a while. It wasn’t a matter of all of a sudden we got to that last weekend in recruiting, we didn’t get the guy we thought we were going to get and then we panicked into finding a guy. We were on him and tracked him and Coach Grant had met with him and his dad.

“So I think we had a good sense for if we have to go down that route, here’s a junior college kid at least we feel like we know a fair amount about, like where he comes from, like where he’s going, that type of thing. So usually when you make those mistakes, it’s because you don’t have any of that information on the front end. So at least going into that post-signing day period, we knew what we were dealing with, and fortunately it’s worked out to this point.”

Ismail appears to have impressed on the field so far.

“Coach Grant tells me he’s crazy fast, and he’s very athletic,” said Johnson, who has not been with the team this fall because he is recovering from a knee injury. “I mean, I have seen some of practice, and he’s got what it takes. He’s just another piece of the puzzle that I’m excited to see.”

Ismail has some of his father’s off-field energy as well.

“He brings a different kind of element,” Conway said. “He’s an excitement guy, an electric guy. He fires guys up, and he’s the type of guy we need around us.”

Said Vigen: “Getting a chance to meet his dad and all that, I think you got a sense for, yeah, he’s Rocket Jr., but I think he really emulates his dad’s persona, from a confidence standpoint, from a competitive standpoint. He had a long road to get here, but he’s here, and more than anything, hopefully he makes a lot of plays for us.”

And at least there was one Cowboy who didn’t need a lesson on Ismail Jr.’s dad. Freshman quarterback Ryan Marquez’s father, Mike, played running back for Colorado shortly before they faced Ismail’s Fighting Irish in consecutive Orange Bowls.

“But no one else had a clue,” Vigen said. “And part of that’s probably (because) he took the CFL route. But yeah, we are getting old, that’s for sure.”

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By Brandon Foster

Casper Star-Tribune