Tarik Jalil has got a smile to light up a room.
And he’s got a lot to smile about for the next few days.
Jalil is the extremely thrilled — if still somewhat stunned — recipient of two tickets to Sunday’s Super Bowl game in Glendale, Ariz.
“It was very surprising,” he said Wednesday afternoon, just hours after finding out about his upcoming weekend plans. “I wasn’t expecting that at all. It just hit me.”
“He’s a smiler,” his mother, Habibah Jalil, chimed in about his reaction. “All he did was smile. He’s so mellow.”
It’s a fitting surprise for the Flowery Branch High junior, who has been playing football for around 10 years. He’s a running back on his school’s team, with the goal of eventually playing in the National Football League.
“Hopefully, God willing, I may get to the NFL,” he said. “Even if I do, after the NFL, I want to one day own a big physical therapy center. That’s what I want to go to school for, physical therapy, and minor in business. So one day, I hope, that gets real big and spreads around the world.”
But it wasn’t that long ago when his dreams seemed to be over before they even started.
When playing in a game his freshman year, Jalil felt a snap in his left knee.
“It was about the third quarter,” he said. “I would have had a touchdown if I didn’t get hurt. I tried to cut on a dude, and my leg got stuck and it popped.”
Jalil had torn a knee ligament. After rehabilitation, he was prepared to play again his sophomore year — but during a practice, the same thing happened.
“It hurts a lot,” he said about the injury. “The first time, I felt it pop. And the second time, I didn’t feel a pop. I just went to the ground. I knew what it was the second time.”
Jalil persevered through both setbacks, determined to come back as a stronger athlete each time.
“You just put yourself in the mindset that you want to come back and you want to be the best,” he said. “You just work off of that, and I thank God for it.”
After recovering from those injuries, Jalil was ready for an uneventful junior year. But then disaster struck in a different form when his Flowery Branch home was destroyed last August in an electrical fire.
“It was crazy at first,” Jalil said, “because you didn’t want to believe it until you’ve seen it. And then, after a while you just give it to God and then you just let everything recover on its own.”
After hearing Jalil’s story and how he has faced those adversities, RE/MAX provided this trip for Jalil and his mother. He was presented with the tickets Wednesday at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
It will be a weekend of firsts for Jalil — it’s not only his first time on an airplane, but he’ll get to say the Super Bowl was his first time attending a professional football game.
While his favorite team is the San Francisco 49ers, Jalil said he’s rooting for the Seattle Seahawks as they face the New England Patriots on Sunday.
“I’m so happy for my son,” Habibah Jalil said. “We have faced a lot of challenges in the past six months. Just yesterday he was telling me ... he said, ‘I have been through so much in the past six months, but you know what? I just can’t believe I’m actually still smiling.’
“It just touched my spirit because he has been through so much. And he also has a big ol’ smile.”
“I just thank God for it,” Tarik Jalil said, that trademark smile spreading across his face. “People come to you and they think you’ve got something special. Sometimes you don’t see it in yourself but other people see it. And that’s what it is with me. I don’t really think I’m special. There’s nothing big about me. I’m just a 17-year-old in high school, just going through the motions. You touch people, and it really shows you how much you mean to some people.
“It’s a blessing. It’s a real blessing.”