Azeez Al-Shaair became one of the San Francisco 49ers’ greatest stories during last season’s Super Bowl run.
A former standout linebacker at Florida Atlantic, Al-Shaair made the 49ers after tearing his ACL midway through his senior season of college. When he wasn’t contributing alongside Richard Sherman and the 49ers’ excellent defense, Al-Shaair made his mark on special teams.
Al-Shaair’s story just got even better. Less than a decade after a house fire rendered him homeless, Al-Shaair could start at middle linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers.
Azeez Al-Shaair starred at Florida Atlantic
A rangy linebacker from Tampa, Fla., Azeez Al-Shaair signed with the Florida Atlantic Owls in 2015.
Al-Shaair earned USA Today Freshman All-American honors when he totaled 94 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks in 12 games for the Owls that year. As a sophomore, Al-Shaair racked up 113 tackles, 12 stops for a loss, two sacks, and a pick-6.
FAU hired Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin as its new football coach after the 2016 season. With the Kiffin family — Lane hired his younger brother, Chris, as the co-defensive coordinator and brought his father, Monte, in as a pro liaison — in Boca Raton, Al-Shaair took a tremendous step forward in 2017.
Al-Shaair finished the year with 147 tackles, 11 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, and four pass breakups on an Owls team that went 11-3 and won the Conference USA championship. FAU also won that year’s Boca Bowl.
Expected to repeat as C-USA champions in 2018, FAU only began the year 3-3 and Al-Shaair totaled 43 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks in those six games.
Al-Shaair tore his ACL midway through his senior year and went undrafted in 2019. He reunited with Chris Kiffin, then a 49ers assistant, in San Francisco.
Al-Shaair was homeless as a teenager
Part of what makes Azeez Al-Shaair’s story so incredible is the challenges he overcame in high school.
A house fire midway through his sophomore season left Al-Shaair and his family homeless. Al-Shaair, his mother, and his seven younger siblings lived in motels or with relatives.
According to The Mercury News, FAU coaches met Al-Shaair at a youth center when they traveled to Tampa. Those visits almost always happen at a player’s house.
During an appearance on The 49ers Insider Podcast last year, Al-Shaair reflected on how those hardships prepared him for life.
“You turn through the pages of the book and at first it’s like, ‘I really don’t like this book. Then, you keep reading and keep reading, and, ‘You know what? This turned out pretty good.’ That’s kind of an accumulation of how my life has been.”
Al-Shaair has been open about his journey from homeless high school player to an NFL linebacker.
Azeez Al-Shaair could start for the 49ers
Of the eight rookies who made the San Francisco 49ers last year, Azeez Al-Shaair was the only one who hadn’t been drafted.
Al-Shaair had 11 tackles in 15 games last year and played 54% of the 49ers’ special teams snap. Al-Shaair joined the linebacker rotation midseason when teammate Kwon Alexander suffered an injury.
San Francisco made Al-Shaair a healthy scratch for the postseason when Alexander returned. But Al-Shaair could get his chance again.
The 49ers’ starting linebacker, Fred Warner, is currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Teams cannot disclose whether the player is in quarantine or tested positive for COVID-19.
San Francisco hasn’t yet ruled Warner out for the Week 1 opener against Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. But if Warner can’t go or is limited, Al-Shaair should see plenty of middle linebacker reps.
Drawing a Week 1 start would be an incredible next step in Al-Shaair’s journey. But having to line up and stop Kyler Murry is nothing compared to what Al-Shaair has already faced and overcome.