Young newcomer at cornerback a veteran of waiting his turn

Khalid Naziruddin has dealt with his share of rejection.

By DAVID MURPHY, Times Staff Writer
Published May 6, 2007

Even after all the ups and the downs - the rejection out of high school, the Division III career, the walk-on performance at Texas Tech, the stint managing a video game store in Houston, the reality television show - Khalid Naziruddin never thought he would end up at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, wearing gym shorts and a tank top, waiting on a plane ride to Austin, Texas, and his sixth game as an Arena League starter.

"Never in a million years, " the Storm defensive back said.

Since taking over for Lynarise Elpheage six weeks ago as the team's second starting defensive back, Naziruddin has developed a reputation as one of the Storm's most physical players. Teammates have taken to calling him "Killah" for the ferocious hits he puts on opposing wide receivers. Though he has played three fewer games than most of his teammates, the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder is second on the team in tackles with 33, and second in interceptions, with two.

In last weekend's 34-32 win over Columbus, he made an impressive over-the-shoulder interception of a deep Matt Nagy pass that helped propel the Storm to its second win.

"He's one of those guys who has really come on, " Storm coach Tim Marcum says, "and we hope he continues to get better."

There's a good chance that will happen, judging by his career track.

Since graduating from Westfield High in Spring, Texas, five years ago, Naziruddin, 24, has spent most of his time on the field fighting his way upward. Unrecruited, he began his collegiate career at Division III Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas.

He enrolled at Texas Tech in spring of 2004. His first season, he led the team with 83 tackles, prompting a meeting in which coach Mike Leach offered him a starting job and a scholarship.

"I couldn't even talk, " Naziruddin said with his familiar wide smile.

After graduating in 2005, he again found himself at the bottom. He spent a minicamp with the Detroit Lions and a tryout with the Buffalo Bills only to be released both times.

He spent some time participating in an Arena League reality show that never materialized. Eventually, he found himself back home in Houston, living with his mother, Mary, and working as a manger at a video game store.

"It gets pretty frustrating sometimes, " Naziruddin said.

Marcum invited him to training camp in February after receiving a recommendation from Texas Tech defensive backs coach Carlos Mainord, Marcum's former roommate at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.

Naziruddin spent the first three weeks of the season on the practice squad before being activated March 21. He started the Storm's game against New York, and has remained on the field ever since.

He isn't in the NFL. But he's convinced he could be there some day.

"I've been here before, " Naziruddin says. "So it's no problem."

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or 352 848-1407.