Interview by Abernathy Cochran intern and Gainesville High School senior Donangelo Marshall

Meet Yusif Ali! Yusif is a senior outside linebacker on the Gainesville High School football team. He is the youngest of eight children; his father Bilal, is an Iman in Gainesville and his mother is Shannon. Freshman year, he was defensive player of the year and his senior year a pre-season all-state honorable mention, and with his senior season coming to an end, he has eight standing football offers.

Question: What is your favorite thing about Gainesville High school?
Answer: “There are many things I can name about why Gainesville High is an amazing place, but my favorite thing about Gainesville is the welcoming energy it brings to new people or people that aren’t used to the diversity of the school. A lot of people may think it’s a judgmental place, but once you come here, you feel totally different. Most people want to be your friend, welcome you in, and show you the ropes of how to get things done the right way. I also love how the administration teaches you what to do right and what’s wrong.”

Q: Why do you love playing football?
A: “I started taking football seriously probably around seventh grade, and most people just did it for fun, but for me, it was a getaway from the outside life. I could be on the football field for two hours out of my day, and I felt way better than I did in the previous hours before practice. It helped me organize my thoughts and life by helping me get my priorities straight and realize what’s important because football wasn’t everything. Football taught me to put this first or put that first while also helping me stay fit and physical.”

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in Hall County?
A: “My favorite restaurant in Hall County, if we are talking about sit-down restaurants, has to be Collegiate or Chilis. When I go to Collegiate, I get the double burger with everything on it, no bacon, with fries and a Fanta drink; it’s probably the best burger you’ll ever have. At Chilis, I get the honey-chipotle barbecue tenders.”

Q: Who’s your favorite Teacher or Coach, and why?
A: “I’ve never had this teacher, but it’s definitely Ms. Pam Ware. She has taught almost all of my siblings, so we have a connection there, and I feel like I can sit and talk to her. Like the other day, I went to talk to her, and it was a positive conversation about everything going on right now. My favorite coaches have to be Coach Lunsford and Coach Ulmer. Both of them keep it as real as possible; you won’t get any fakeness out of them; everything out of their mouth is 100 percent real. If you take their advice the right way, it will build you into a better man and player.”

Q: Why do you love Hall County?
A: “Depending on where you go, you learn a lot in Hall County. You can go out the road away from the city and learn a lot from those people, or you can go past Green Street and learn a lot from those people. I like what you can learn in the community, and everything is a learning experience; learning about people and their backgrounds warms me. It’s different when you go somewhere else. For example, I’ve traveled about three times in the past month to other cities and states on visits, and you notice Hall County is way better than people think it is. That goes from the size, what there is to do, and what is brought into the community; most people take it for granted. The people make this place very unique.”

Q: What is one lesson you have learned from your sport?
A: “Make sure your priorities are straight; you can’t put football first because everything that you put first before football will make you a better player. You put God first in your life always because God brings you to where you are. School keeps you in the loop of football. If you do right by your teachers in school, the same people will help you get where you want to be on the field and in life. I’ve also learned that I shouldn’t take it for granted.”

Q: What is your advice to younger athletes doing your sport?
A: “Listen to the people that are older than you, listen and respect your elders and coaches, and respect your opponents. If you don’t, there will come a time if you keep acting hot-headed or like you’re above everyone else, that can be taken away from you. You wanna do the best you can when you can, buy-in early, and don’t fall back from your peers.”