Ahmed Hassanein was going to go to military school. Willingly. He wanted to go so bad that, five years later, it hasn’t drifted too deep in his mind.
“(It’s) in Georgia called Riverside,” Hassanein says unprompted.
It was 2018 and Hassanein was living in Egypt at the time. He had moved to the country’s capital city, Cairo, with his father when he was 6, spending his formative years in the Arabic culture. Nearly a decade later, as his 16th birthday neared, he would’ve done anything to go to America.
A military academy 6,000 miles away sounded better than staying put.
“I was a little bit struggling in Egypt,” Hassanein, Boise State’s junior EDGE, told Bronco Nation News. “Just family stuff, like my mom and dad separating. … My mom left when I was 3 and I stayed with my dad. Then she came back to my life, and then she left again. It was really hard for me.”
Family life was not always fun for Hassanein. So, naturally, trust did not come easy — and when young kids do not trust, they do not behave. Hassanein acted out. He questioned things. He struggled to find his place in Egypt.
At the same time Hassanein’s half-brother (Same father), Cory Besch, was trying to find his next calling.
After bouncing around in high school, Besch found success on the football field and played college ball at Division II Azusa Pacific in Southern California. When that ended, he started teaching and coaching at his alma mater, Loara High in Anaheim. Years later, out of nowhere, there was an opportunity to play quarterback in a small town in Austria. Yes, Austria.
“We were the Schwaz Hammers,” Besch said. “It was amazing.”
When his 2018 season ended, he trekked to Egypt for a two-week vacation to see family. Besch never lived abroad. He was born and raised in America by his mother, spending almost his entire life in Southern California.
At that point, Besch hadn’t seen his younger brother in-person since Hassanein moved to Egypt. Almost a decade had passed with hardly any communication. They knew about each other’s lives based on whatever Instagram or Facebook posts the other posted in a year.
Besch, in some ways, sounds almost regretful looking back on it. During his brother’s formative years, he was on the other side of the world.
“I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know what he did,” Hassanein said. “I only knew that he played football and that he was good at football. That’s all I knew.”
If there was any awkwardness, it faded with the first hug. The age gap was brutal (Besch is older by over 14 years). The language barrier was even more daunting (Besch only spoke English. Hassanein mainly spoke Arabic with some broken English). But that’s the thing with family. Your lives, however distant in reality, are always full of shared experiences.
“In Arabic culture and Egyptian culture, family is everything. Especially with boys,” Besch said. “You stick with your family and you support each other. For him to have an older brother and have the opportunity to have that relationship, he wanted it but it was kind of weird. Like we haven’t spent a ton of time together. I don’t know your life.”
The rapper Drake came out with a single titled, “God’s Plan” in 2018. Besch needs not to look that up. He remembers it playing all throughout that trip. On drives all around the country, to fancy dinners on the Nile River and camel rides around the Great Pyramids. He doesn’t think that was coincidence.
On his first visit to Egypt in 18 years, during a birthday party for their younger brother, Besch’s Muslim uncle, Ibrahim pulled Besch aside. “God has you here for a reason,” he told Besch.
Later that night, Besch and his two sisters sat on the balcony of the family house, smoking hookah and talking about what to do with their little brother.
“What if Ahmed came and lived with me?” Besch offered up.
Questions, of course, were asked. A 16-year-old is not sent across the world without some serious discussion. But Besch was persistent. At dinner a few nights later, around his entire family, Besch assured everyone he could take care of his brother. Perhaps the words from the song on his drive over rattled in his head.
“I was like, ‘Dude, I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do,’” Besch said. “I had spent my career giving back to kids through football and mentoring young kids without dads and without father figures. So when I saw my brother struggling, it was a no-brainer. I felt that call in my heart.”
Besch left Egypt soon after, back to California to find a place that could accommodate two. He picked Hassanein up at the airport about a month later. Hassanein was finally in America. He probably envisioned drill sergeants greeting him. Instead, it was a brother he’d hardly seen in a decade … who didn’t speak the same language.
For the first few months, Hassanein communicated with his own made-up language, parsing together whatever English words he knew with some charades to get the message across.
“It was like sign language. I was like, ‘I want to, to put the food in this,” Hassanein said, using his fingers to draw a box in the air. “It was like, ‘What is the big thing?’ He’s smart so he could figure it out — it was a fridge.
“It was every little thing,” Hassanein said. “It was really hard at first, because you can’t sign language emotions. It was really hard for me to speak up.”
And it’s hard to ask questions. And, boy were there a lot of questions. What’s this, what’s that? Foreign things are bizarre. There are the funny stories of Hassanein seeing a football game and asking Besch what the heck was on TV. “That’s the NFL,” Besch said. “OK, I want to go there.”
But there were also contentious moments. He had to learn to fold laundry and wash dishes. He had to understand how to be responsible and aware. He found out how to fish and hang curtains. He needed to navigate being an independent person in a new world.
“It was hard to fill those roles: brother and dad and coach and teach and everything else,” Besch said. “But you couldn’t help but love him through the struggles. That’s what we felt always — that there was love there for your brother. But it was definitely awkward.”
Besch tried to ease the transition as best he could. Hassanein started his sophomore year of high school at Loara, where Besch was an English teacher and football coach. He was a good student, putting forth effort and energy into learning a new language keeping up with the curriculum. But making friends was hard. High schoolers aren’t eager to work past a language barrier.
So Hassanein just went to the gym. And then back to the gym. And then hit the gym some more. Besch would drop him off every night — and then come back three hours later to pick him up.
“He had that workout culture from (doing CrossFit, Boxing and Judo in) Egypt,” Besch said. “He just loved lifting weights.”
Naturally, he was drawn to the physicality of football. The actual strategy and rules of the game, however, were more complex than the tax code.
The Loara coaches worked and worked with Hassanein — which took patience and some translation. When he’d mess up a play or mishear a tempo, head coach Mitch Olson would raise his voice and holler at Hassanein.
“Are you sad at me?” Hassanein would ask, trying to say mad.
When he had a solid practice, though, Olson would make sure Hassanein knew he was doing good. He’d grab a piece of paper and draw two, big blue stars. To this day, there’s a sheet of paper with two blues stars sitting in Hassanein’s car.
Besch believes in destiny. He keeps going back to that Drake song because what has happened in the past five years defies mere circumstance.
On his first trip back to Egypt in almost 20 years, he learns his younger brother, whom he has almost no relationship with, is struggling and willing to do anything to get to America. And not only does his brother have eight inches and almost 100 pounds on Besch (5-7, 175), but he has a CrossFit background and loves nothing more than lifting weights.
And even though his brother picked up football rather quickly, he was playing at Loara, a Division 14 school in California that hadn’t produced a Division I football player in decades. Not just that, his brother’s senior year was ravaged by the first global pandemic in 100 years, which means some of his best film was at a camp held in a parking lot. And on top of it, there was no precedent. Nobody from Egypt had ever played Division I football.
Besch’s spiritual gift, he says, is encouragement. At every impasse, he’d tell his little brother “Trust me.” One day, the trust paid off. A highlight video Hassanein posted on Twitter caught the eye of Boise State defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson, who messaged him. Hassanein told his brother about the coach who reached out. No way, Besch thought. Years prior, Danielson and Besch were teammates at Azusa Pacific.
“God put it together and we were just the dots,” Besch said. “Every step of the story is so unbelievable, that you can’t help but believe. Now he believes.”
Heading into his junior season at Boise State, Hassanein is almost assuredly going to start at defensive end opposite Demitri Washington. For the first two years of his collegiate career, he was solid, racking up 18 tackles and a pair of sacks. But he was playing somewhat out of position, posted up at defensive tackle clogging gaps.
Over the past six months, Hassanein has dropped 20 pounds. He’s always had power, but now his tempo is beginning to catch up. At a recent practice, the technology that tracks the player’s speed caught Hassanein’s 270-pound frame moving at almost 20 mph.
And the nuance of football has come along as well as his polished English. For as complicated a game as it is, with a hundred penalties and play calls, Hassanein is past the point of guessing.
“Just being able to feel stuff, having instincts on the football field — because I didn’t have that back then,” Hassanein said. “Right now I feel like, ‘OK, the O-Line is in a pass stance … OK, it’s a run stance. He’s looking down. OK, it’s a wing set. It’s a gun-strong, gun-weak.’ I’m recognizing patterns.”
Able to again watch Hassanein’s development up close is Besch, who moved his wife and daughter to Boise last summer — partly because they thought Boise was beautiful and partly because it’s now incredibly easy to see Hassanein.
“It’s been really like the ultimate blessing to have that relationship,” Besch said.
Besch thought back to the first time his brother got in a game at Boise State. It was early October at Utah State and Besch had made the trek to Logan. Just a few years earlier, he was in a tiny kitchen trying to teach his brother above leverage and how to beat a blocker off the edge (“I think he threw me into the cabinet on accident,” Besch said with a chuckle), and now he was playing college football.
After the game, Besch ran down to the front row as his brother was walking around the field.
“He jumped up like a little boy, like he was 7 years old,” Besch said. “And I felt the same way inside.”
And, now, after almost every game, Hassanein looks to the stands to find his family.
“I get super pumped,” he said. “Like, ‘Brother, we made it.”