BOCA RATON, Fla. - Azeez Al-Shaair has been in Florida Atlantic University football's starting lineup since arriving on campus in 2015 as a true freshman. What many do not see and what is difficult to measure is his character, his leadership and his drive on and off the field.
On Monday, Al-Shaair was announced as one of 20 on the semifinal list for the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year. The award celebrates those who have demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field.
Fifteen seniors, four juniors, of which Al-Shaair is one of, and one sophomore make up the list. Among the conferences, the ACC led the way with four selections, while the PAC 12 and the American Athletic Conference each had three. Al-Shaair is the lone representative from Conference USA.
Al-Shaair served as the 2016 Owl captain as a sophomore, the youngest to be voted as a captain in the history of the program. The 2017 team will name its captains at season's end, but there is no question that Al-Shaair is the team's leader, as Head Coach Lane Kiffin has discussed on several occasions. Most notable was when decisions needed to be made on behalf of the players prior to and after Hurricane Irma.
Al-Shaair leads the Owls and C-USA with 88 tackles, despite missing a game due to injury, and is No. 5 nationally in total tackles. He and the Owls are 6-3 on the season, in contention for a conference title and are bowl eligible for the first time since 2013.
Three finalists will be named for the award on Monday, Dec. 11. The winner will be announced at the award ceremony on Feb. 22, 2018, at The Star in Frisco, Texas.
The inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year, presented by Albertsons and Tom Thumb, will be the first college football honor to focus primarily on a player's leadership, both on and off the field. Leadership is a term synonymous with Jason Witten, who, in addition to becoming one of the best tight ends in the history of the sport and the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver, has served as one of football's most prominent role models during his 15-year pro career. In addition to winning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2012, Witten also has received the Bart Starr Award, Pro Football Weekly's Humanitarian of the Year Award, Home Depot NFL Neighborhood MVP and the Bob Lilly Award, among many others. All of those honors have recognized his work in the community, achievements on the field and dedication to his teammates and family.
The winner of the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year will also receive a $10,000 contribution in his name to his school's athletic scholarship fund. The contribution will be made by Jason Witten's SCORE Foundation, the official charity of Jason and his wife Michelle. The SCORE Foundation, founded in 2007, has positively impacted tens of thousands of children and families in Texas and Tennessee over the last 10 years. The foundation operates its nationally-recognized SCOREkeepers program, which places trained male mentors on staff to work with children at family violence shelters, at nine shelters in the two states. SCORE has also operated a weekend food backpack program for disadvantaged children in North Texas, opened Jason Witten Learning Centers in five different Boys & Girls Clubs and opened the Jason and Michelle Witten Emergency Waiting Room at the Niswonger Children's Hospital in Johnson City, Tenn.
Next up for Al-Shaair and the Owls is another Conference USA matchup on the road at Louisiana Tech, this Saturday at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast on STADIUM and ESPN West Palm 106.3. FAU will then host the 16th Annual Shula Bowl pitting host FAU versus FIU in the final home game of the 2017 regular season. Tickets for the game are available by phone at 866-FAU-OWLS or online at fausports.com.