When obstacles are standing in his way, Kareem Are pushes through them.
It's a character trait that has helped the Florida State offensive lineman on and off the field.
Much like how he fights through defenders to open up space for his running backs, Are meets life's challenges head-on.
The 23-year-old has grown up fast.
His father died when he was very young and he became the de facto "man of the house." He helped his mother raise his two younger siblings following their father's death.
He wasn't immediately thrust into the college spotlight after a successful high school career in New York. Instead, he had to bide his time at Fort Scott Community College in Fort Scott, Kansas.
He pushed through those two experiences and is now about to take on the challenges of being an NFL Draft prospect.
“Going through some hard things always prepares you for anything, to be honest,” Are said. “You kind of have a mindset of ‘I’ll get through it no matter what’ and that’s kind of the mindset I’ve had since I left high school, having to go to junior college. I’m willing to do whatever it takes so I guess I can say it does help.”
Following his stint as the No. 1 guard on the JUCO radar, Are had plenty of interest from major schools. Ole Miss, South Carolina and Penn State were all eager to add him to their programs, but Are chose Florida State.
"At the time when I was getting recruited, it was the best fit for me,” Are said.
“I saw what [Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett] was doing with the guys he had on the offensive line. He took Cam [Erving] from D-Line and switched him over to O-Line. He was taking freshmen and having them ready to start in less than a year. I knew I was coming in from junior college so I wouldn’t have as much time. I thought just what was going on at Florida State and with Coach Trickett, that would be the best fit for me at the time.”
Are thought Florida State was a great fit, but it was still an adjustment for him. He redshirted during his first year on campus. He admits the learning period was important for his growth as a player.
“Playing junior college in Kansas, I was going up against some of the best players in junior college football,” Are said. “But even then, to transfer to Florida State was a big difference. The speed was a lot different, the strength of some these guys and just a lot of the stuff we needed to know as O-linemen was a lot more, so the playbook was more intense. Coaches just demanded more of us at Florida State.”
Are spent two seasons as the Seminoles' starting left guard. He helped open holes for unanimous All-American running back Dalvin Cook, who averaged 135.8 rushing yards per game last season.
“That was a great experience for me,” Are said. “Playing with Dalvin was one of the best things you could ask as an offensive lineman. Even if there are times when you do make mistakes, he can still make you look good. He was a real humble guy, never complained, never talked bad to us or about us. Playing with Dalvin was a great experience because he was one of those players that his mentality on the field rubbed off on everybody else.”
Are was forced to sit out of the West-East Shrine Game in January. Tendonitis in his right knee kept him sidelined for the annual all-star showcase in St. Petersburg.
Are handled that let down like most challenges in his life: he continued working.
He is training to make the most of his pro day at Florida State on March 28. It will be a huge opportunity for him as he was not invited to the NFL Combine.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound lineman isn't focusing on what he has missed out on. Instead, he is paying attention to what he can control.
Are has self-described quick feet and he thinks that he will shine in field drills in front of the scouts in Tallahassee. While the crowd will be there to keep an eye on Cook, Are could snag the attention of onlookers who are searching for interior offensive line help.
Are plans to make sure he leaves a lasting impression on scouts. This is all about a dream.
He wants to play in the NFL.
Are hopes to hear his name called on draft weekend. He has been working for that moment for a long time.
“It’ll be a crazy feeling,” Are said. “It’s been something I’ve been working for literally my whole life. It’s been a very – I wouldn’t say tough process but a very long process for me. I’ve taken pretty much every route possible to get here, so to get my name called would be the ultimate blessing. It’d be a dream come true.”
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.