CHICAGO | Football may be America's favorite sport, but not too long ago, it was a completely foreign concept to Rashid Hedjizan.
That's understandable, since the United States was a foreign country to the Washington High School senior. Born in Saudi Arabia, Hedjizan had no exposure to football in his home country, his athletic endeavors instead consisting of basketball and Ping-Pong.
But at around 300 pounds, Hedjizan was not meant for table tennis once he and his family arrived in the U.S.
"I came here my sophomore year and everybody was saying, 'You must play football,'" Hedjizan said.
Patriots coach Jimmy Smith kept things simple for the newcomer, who was inserted into the defensive line.
"The coach would tell me, 'Just get the guy with the ball,'" Hedjizan said with a smile. "The first game I had was against Brooks (Prep), and I had about seven or eight tackles. I didn't even speak English that good, but (Eagles players) wanted me to go to Brooks and play over there."
No way Smith was going to let that happen.
"I don't know where he learned (about football), but he's a very smart kid and a good football player," Smith said. "I was kind of surprised at how good he was.
"He was so big, it'd be hard to move him, so I put him at nose tackle. All he had to do was clog up the middle, and he's been doing that ever since."
Hedjizan's emergence has coincided with that of Washington's football program, which is guaranteed to finish with a winning record for only the fifth time in the past two decades.
"When we join together and can work together as a team, I like that," Hedjizan said.
Given his birthplace, some Patriots players weren't sure what to initially make of Hedjizan in a cultural sense. Neither did his coach.
"It's kind of funny -- I thought he was Muslim and he said, 'No, Coach, I'm Catholic,'" Smith said with a chuckle.
"They thought I was a terrorist and they were like, 'Are you going to blow up the quarterback?'" Hedjizan said of some Washington students. "They would say stuff like that, but I was cool with it."
Hedjizan understood the critical comments originated from a sense of the unknown rather than meanness.
"Over there, they were closer to the conflict and kids get the news much better," he said of his homeland peers. "They're much more aware of the wars and the problems in the (Persian) Gulf and Palestine and all that stuff."
Removing Hedjizan from that situation was part of what prompted his parents to come to the U.S., where the family has been reunited with relatives who had made an earlier move to Chicago.
"There was a sense of that a little bit, but it was (also) a better education (here) and better environment for kids to grow up," Hedjizan said.
And it hasn't taken long for him to acclimate to American life. When asked what he has embraced the most, Hedjizan didn't hesitate to answer.
"Sunday night football," he said.