NASHVILLE – New Titans linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair's path to the NFL – and through life – wasn't an easy one.
Al-Shaair grew up in a family of nine. His mother, Naadhirah, worked hard to make ends meet. At one point, things got so difficult the family was forced to move into their grandmother's home in Tampa, Fla.
Things would get even tougher. A house fire uprooted the family, sending them from place to place. Eventually the family moved into a long-stay motel, where Al-Shaair oftentimes slept on the floor. He sometimes ate just one meal a day, and he'd go to bed dreaming of better days ahead.
"I remember I used to close my eyes when I was a child, and we were staying in that motel and I would watch the draft and every time somebody would get up and say, 'With the something pick of the NFL Draft, they select' I would just close my eyes and say my name," Al-Shaair said. "I think my whole life I thought that's what was going to be for me."
Al-Shaair made it, even though it wasn't as he'd imagined. While he wasn't drafted – he was signed by the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2019 – he established himself while playing in college at Florida Atlantic, and then made a name for himself while playing the past four years in San Francisco.
Al-Shaair signed with the Titans earlier this week, and he's now ready to make an impact in Tennessee.
"At the end of the day," he said, "I can't write a better story than God can have for me. I always say it's God's timing, because at the end of the day it's going to happen when it's supposed to happen. I wouldn't change anything that's happened to me up to this point, because I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I couldn't write it any better."
Over the past four seasons, Al-Shaair played in 56 games, with 31 starts, for the 49ers. He totaled 199 tackles, two sacks, 11 tackles for loss, two interceptions, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries from 2019-2022.
His best season in San Francisco came in 2021, when he set career marks in starts (13), tackles (103), fumble recoveries (2) and sacks (2.0) and matched career-highs in interceptions (1) and forced fumbles (1).
With the Titans, he's ready to take his game to another level.
"I think it's a great opportunity. I am grateful to be here, to be a Titan," he said. "Obviously linebacker right now is a position of need, so I am grateful to come in here and show everybody what I am about.
"I feel like I have so much to bring to the team, as a football player and as a person, as a leader."
At his introductory press conference earlier this week, Al-Shaair talked about his journey through life.
Wearing a sparkling necklace around his neck, the inscriptions which decorate it detail his story, and what pushes him each day. He recalled a story when he wondered, crying to his mother, if he'd ever realized his dream of playing in the NFL. Some encouraging words from his grandfather give meaning to the other side.
His story continues in Tennessee.
"Right here, on this pendant, it's double-sided," Al-Shaair explained. "One side is a quote my mother used to tell me, and basically, to sum it up, (it says) 'That which is for you shall not pass you by, and that which passes you by is not for you.' … (My mother) told me: 'All you can do is work as hard as you can, trust in God, and everything will take of itself.'
"On the other side is a poem, called Invictus, which my grandfather used to always tell me. … The thing that always stuck with me is the last two lines: 'I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.' Realistically, for me, I think it kind of fit into my whole life. Because everything that was happening throughout my life, being homeless, struggling, getting to the point where I was a top player in college and tearing my ACL, having to go through that, being undrafted. Just not letting anybody control my story and believing in myself and staying the course."