Yousef Mugharbil faced a tricky dilemma in January.
The four-star UF offensive line signee has lived in Murphy, North Carolina, a town of less than 2,000 people, his entire life. He won a state championship at Murphy High School as a sophomore and wanted to go out on top with another ring after falling short as a junior.
Prior to even committing to Florida, Mugharbil had also planned to graduate high school a semester early to get a jump start on his college career.
When the North Carolina state government pushed fall sports into the spring due to COVID-19, he was forced to make a difficult decision. Should he stick around Murphy a little longer and try to end his high school career in a more satisfying fashion, or should he follow through with his plans to enroll at UF in January?
Making things even more complicated was the fact that the spring football season wasn’t scheduled to start until February, which forced him to make an educated guess. The last thing Mugharbil wanted to do was decide to stay in high school, only for the high school season to never happen anyway.
Ultimately, his love for his hometown and the sense of commitment he felt for his team were too strong. He decided to push college off until the summer.
“It wouldn’t have felt right for me to leave without really finishing it off with my senior year,” Mugharbil said.
“I’ve been in Murphy my whole life, since I was a little kid, and football was something that really took me over and something that I really fell in love with, and I really wanted to finish out my time at Murphy.”
In today’s era of players opting out of games and choosing the path that will make them the most money in the shortest amount of time, it’s hard to say that many other kids in Mugharbil’s position would’ve made the same decision. Head coach David Gentry, the winningest coach in North Carolina history and a nine-time state champion, said loyalty is one of Mugharbil’s defining traits.
“If we were going to have [a season], he was going to stay,” Gentry said. “He’s that type of kid. He has committed to Murphy High School football. When he comes down there, he’ll be committed to Gator football. What he commits to, that’s what he’s going to be.
“I know you win down there with great athletes, but I think if you’ve got good athletes and great character, you’re ahead of the game. You’re way ahead of the game.”
Mugharbil’s decision unquestionably proved to be the right one. The Bulldogs defeated Northside High School last Saturday to win the Class A state championship, and he is now about a month away from enrolling at Florida.
Mugharbil said head coach Dan Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesy were very supportive of his revised plan. They called him several times per week and told him to not let college be a distraction from his high school season. UF would be waiting for him this summer, but he only got one chance at his senior season in high school.
It might seem hard to believe that Mugharbil, a top-300 recruit, only started playing football about four years ago, but that’s exactly the case with him.
His three older brothers were serious soccer players, so that was his sport of choice for the first 15 or so years of his life.
He was always interested in football, however. Two of his older brothers switched to football once they were juniors in high school, and he liked how much of a team sport it is. One person can’t take over a game the way someone can in soccer. His friends constantly urged him to play.
Mugharbil’s mother, however, was very protective of her youngest son. Even though he was about 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds as a freshman by Gentry’s estimate, she was concerned for his safety if he were to play football.
Once he got to high school, she finally agreed to let him play, and he joined the junior varsity team.
“I wanted to do it in the past before I started, but I kind of was just held back,” Mugharbil said. “My mom wanted me to stay in soccer, and I didn’t really understand much about football at the time. But once I got into it, I instantly fell in love. I loved going to practice. I loved everything about the game, so it kind of stuck with me.”
Normally, Gentry calls up the best of the junior varsity team to the varsity squad after the junior varsity season is complete. Once again, Mugharbil’s mom blocked that move. She wanted him to progress at a slower pace and join varsity as a sophomore.
Mugharbil started on the offensive line from day one as a sophomore and also played some at defensive end as his career moved along.
While it took Mugharbil and his mom a little while to warm up to football, it didn’t take major college programs long to warm up to him.
After his sophomore season, Mugharbil put together a highlight package. Gentry helped him distribute it to college recruiters. Within four days, four Power Five schools in the area had offered him: South Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke.
“I was very surprised,” Mugharbil said. “I did not think it was something that could really be a reality. It was never really something that I actively chased when I was younger because I didn’t really think about it. But whenever it started happening, I kind of started to understand why. Whenever you’ve got size in a sport and you make a good film and you do OK, then you’re going to get looked at. I was just really excited for that, and I was blessed. It meant a lot to me.”
— yousefmugharbil (@yousefmugharbi1) February 12, 2020
Over the next two years, schools like Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Illinois, Louisville, Kentucky, Penn State and Arkansas offered him. Ohio State also showed interest at one point, though his inability to visit the OSU campus due to COVID kept anything from materializing.
Florida entered the picture extremely late, offering him in April 2020. Of course, that was after the NCAA instituted a lengthy dead period amid the pandemic. So, Mugharbil’s recruitment to UF consisted of a bunch of Zoom tours, phone calls and one unofficial visit to the campus with his family. Still, that was enough to win him over.
“I really enjoyed talking to [the coaches],” he said. “I really liked who they were as people. I did a bunch of virtual tours and stuff, which were a lot better than I expected them to be, very well made. It was really able to show me everything that I wasn’t able to see. And along with that, I went on a visit on the campus not too long ago, and that kind of sealed the deal for me. Whenever I saw that, I was really intrigued.”
While tight ends coach Tim Brewster served as his primary recruiter, it was Hevesy that made a lasting impression on Mugharbil.
“I liked how he was very straight-up with me,” he said. “He told me what it was and how it is. I just thought he was a very respectable person and coach, so that’s kind of what got me interested.”
Mugharbil committed to the Gators in November and signed in December.
He fits the mold for what Florida has brought in on the offensive line in recent years. He’s huge (6-foot-5, 330 pounds), can play either guard or tackle and is known for playing with a mean streak. He doesn’t just try to beat defensive linemen; he tries to humiliate them. He recorded nine pancake blocks in one game as a junior, according to Gentry.
“He’s got real good pad level, and he wants to make a block, and he’ll go after you,” Gentry said. “He not only wants to make it, but he wants to make it real good. He wants to put that player on the ground if he can possibly do it every play. That’s something special when you get that big a kid that can move and can do that. He was quite dominant.”
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— yousefmugharbil (@yousefmugharbi1) November 27, 2020
If there’s one chink in his armor, it’s that he played for a run-heavy offense under Gentry. Gentry said they only threw the ball maybe 12 times per game. While he doesn’t have a ton of pass-protection reps under his belt, Gentry thinks Mugharbil has what it takes to be a complete lineman. His soccer background and his experience playing defensive end show you how athletic he is and how skilled he is with his feet.
Mugharbil is excited to refine his pass-protection technique under Hevesy’s tutelage.
“I’m definitely going to want to get my feet accustomed to that,” he said. “I think I have really good feet, but just everything that goes with the pass block, I’m going to really have to get myself better at and get used to it. I think that’s something I am lacking in and something I need to get better at.”
More than anything, though, the Gators are getting a fierce competitor and a passionate teammate. He cannot stand losing, and he’s not afraid to challenge his teammates to play better if he needs to.
“We were in a third-round game, tough third-round game away, we’re behind at halftime, and, as a sophomore, he stood up at halftime, and he started crying, and he said, ‘I didn’t come up here to lose,’” Gentry said. “I think the team got that message. We went out there the second half, and we won the second half and won that game.
“He’s a great leader too, now. He’s got great intensity, and he wants to win. Great leadership qualities. He does not like to lose any battle he’s in. He wants to win every play. He’s not going to take any plays off. He’s a special kid, and that’s what the University of Florida’s got.”
Gentry believes Mugharbil has what it takes to be an All-SEC player and a future professional.
“I’ve never seen an offensive lineman as good as he is,” he said. “I’m sure there is, but I think the University of Florida’s real fortunate to get him.”
Indeed, UF is very fortunate to get him, even if it is five months later than expected.