Eye black gives Notre Dame DE Khalid Kareem 'superpowers'

Tyler James

SOUTH BEND — When Khalid Kareem played his first high school football game as a freshman, he applied a generous amount of eye black to his face.

Not only did he spread it under his eyes, but he smeared it lower onto his cheek. He was inspired by videos and pictures his father had showed him of former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman John Randle.

The tradition has continued and morphed as Kareem has emerged as one of Notre Dame’s top defensive linemen. It’s a full-blown superstition now.

“The games I didn’t do it, I felt as though I didn’t play as well I could have, so I just started doing it again,” Kareem said. “It gives me my superpowers.”

He has received encouragement from fellow defensive lineman Kurt Hinish. Before the Citrus Bowl in January, they decided to take it a step further. Hinish circled his eyes with the black grease. Kareem applied the eye black on his forehead. Together they look like some sort of wrestling tag team.

“When we see each other and we’re all covered up, it’s go time,” Kareem said. “We’re locked in at that point.”

It’s hard to argue with the results. After a Citrus Bowl win, Kareem brought the look back for the season opener against Michigan. He totaled eight tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss against the Wolverines, earning him Walter Camp National Player of the Week.

That solidified the new look, even if he’s heard plenty of jokes. Some teammates will tell him that he missed a spot somewhere on his face.

Even his family gives him a hard time.

“’You might as well smear the whole thing on your face, that’s all you’re doing,’” Kareem recalled being chided. “Then it gets in my hair after. It gets in my beads. So I have to wash those. It’s a process, but it makes me better.”

If his love for eye black didn’t make him stand out enough, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Kareem started wearing beads at the ends of his braided hair. The idea came from running back Dexter Williams before the season.

“I put them in just to see how they looked,” Kareem said. “It’s the wave.”

Kareem doesn’t mind being different. Since his days at Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison, he’s found ways to stand out in a crowd. He received more than 30 scholarship offers and originally committed to Alabama in June 2015. Kareem eventually flipped his commitment to Notre Dame in October later that year.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly said earlier this week that Notre Dame was focused on finding defensive ends in the 2016 recruiting class that wouldn’t have to move to defensive tackle later in their careers.

“We were really focused on staying with guys that were going to stay outside, have the ability to pass rush,” Kelly said. “Kareem has shown, even though he’s a big end, he’s a really good pass rusher. It was really staying in that focus.”

The result? The Irish signed Kareem, Julian Okwara, Dealin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji in the class. Kareem leads that quartet with 27 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks this season.

During the bye week, Kareem returned to Harrison to watch the Hawks play one of their last football games. The school has been ordered to close at the end of the school year. Irish teammate Ovie Oghoufo also attended Harrison.

Harrison, in what may have been its last home game, beat Farmington 48-7 that night. Victories have a way of following Kareem lately.

The 8-0 start for Notre Dame means Kareem’s look won’t be changing anytime soon either. Kareem, who wore pink and white beads in his hair for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, said he’ll probably rock blue and gold beads in November.

There’s no risk of him running out of eye black either. He learned that lesson last season.

“We used too much early on, so we ran out,” Kareem said. “So, I took one for my own personal stash.”

Notre Dame’s managers know to have the eye black well stocked, but just in case ...

“I always have my own stash if they ever run out,” Kareem said, “so I’m good.”

Notre Dame’s Khalid Kareem (53) on the field before the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.
Using a lot of eye black has become a superstition for Notre Dame defensive end Khalid Kareem. Gregory Bull