If you were to watch Saalim Hakim separate from a defensive back in practice or blow by opponents in YouTube highlight videos from his sophomore season at Palomar Community College (Calif.), you would never guess the 6-2, 190-pound wide receiver played only one year of high school football.
You would also never guess he spent that year playing out of position as a running back in an archaic double-wing offense.
“I grew up in a Muslim school in Atlanta,” says Hakim, who is one of 130 Tarleton players who are now four days into training camp. “They only had soccer and basketball, so that’s what I played.”
Hakim first learned he was faster than most other kids on the soccer field where he played wing.
“I was fast so I played wing and had to run a lot,” he said. “I was always fast.”
Hakim didn’t find his way onto a football field until his senior year of high school, when he moved to Las Vegas and played running back.
“I didn’t know anything,” he says of his first year on the gridiron.
But his physical talent was obvious enough to land him a spot on the team at Palomar Community College, where he immediately moved to wide receiver.
“The first year I didn’t play at all because I didn’t really know how to run routes or any of that,” Hakim says. “But that summer I worked with my brother and he taught me a lot.”
His brother certainly had a lot to teach. Azzahir Hakim won Super Bowl XXXIV with the St. Louis Rams in 2000 and also played for Detroit, New Orleans, San Diego and Miami.
“I learned everything from how to run better routes, to how to attack defensive backs,” Hakim said. “He completely changed the way I played the game. He’s definitely had the biggest influence on me as a player.”
Hakim had a much better sophomore season, becoming a significant contributor for Palomar with 28 receptions for 379 yards and six touchdowns.
“All of a sudden I had Middle Tennessee, Temple, Utah, New Mexico State and California-Berkely after me,” he said.
But the Division I route wasn’t an option for Hakim.
“I found out I was a couple credits short and wouldn’t be able to make it into Division I,” he said. “My coach told me I could go Division II.”
That’s when Hakim remembered the business card.
Tarleton State assistant coach Henry Coffer, who has since been promoted to defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator, had visited Palomar on a junior college recruiting trip after Hakim’s freshman year.
Hakim kept the card in his wallet, and a year later, he knew why.
“I looked and it was still there a year later,” Hakim said. “I called Coach Coffer and asked if I could come to his school. Once he called me back me and my dad packed my truck and drove 22 hours straight through from San Diego.”
Hakim arrived at Tarleton, was introduced to head coach Cary Fowler and in a flash became the newest Texan football player. He is part of a recruiting class the Texans hope can replace the production of departed 1,000-yard receivers Devin Guinn and Jahmeel Hobson.
Fowler says Hakim has a lot of upside.
“He’s a tremendously talented kid,” Fowler said. “He’s strong, he has great speed and he catches the ball well.”
But the head coach warns Hakim still has a long way to go on the learning side.
“We’re finding that he really is behind in understanding the game, and that’s just because he hasn’t played much football,” Fowler added. “But the good thing is, he doesn’t have any bad habits we have to break. We just have to teach him how to do things the right way.
“We’re expecting big things out of him this year,” Fowler continued. “He’s going to keep learning and we’re going to keep finding ways to get him the ball because he can blow by you in a second.”
Hakim says he is committed to learning the offense and becoming a force for the Texans.
“Learning the offense is going good,” Hakim said. “I’m studying my playbook a lot, trying to learn one position at a time.”
The kinesiology major has already familiarized himself with the Tarleton quarterbacks.
“I like our quarterbacks,” Hakim said. “They can really get you the ball. Nick Stephens, Aaron Doyle and Casey Page are all good.”
Hakim has simple goals for his junior season.
“I want to do the best I can to get better every day. I want to listen to what the coaches tell me to do and move on to the next level,” he said. “The more I learn the game, the better chance I have of playing in the NFL like my brother.”
And the more he learns, the better chance Tarleton has of turning their new speedster into a scoring threat from anywhere on the field.
“His physical abilities make him dangerous,” Fowler said. “As he understands the game better he’s going to become a great weapon for us.”