Krichati honors father, embraces leadership roles on, off the gridiron

Krichati honors father, embraces leadership roles on, off the gridiron

Omar Krichati (12) sits alone in the locker room, praying with his late father’s ring. Krichati does this before every game to honor his father. During games, he wears a necklace with the ring that his father wore when he passed away in a car accident.

Omar Krichati (12) can’t get enough of Friday nights. From the roaring of Wolverines in the home stands to the booming voice of the announcer on the loudspeaker to the clashing of helmets and pads on the gridiron, nothing gets more exciting than this.

“Even the little things like the way the turf feels as I touch the ground to the way the air smells add to the experience, and I love it,” he said.

Football means a lot to Krichati, which is why on Sept. 21, around 5:30 p.m., he sat alone and hunched over in the Westview locker room, whispering with eyes closed as he clasped his necklace dearly. Westview’s sixth game was 90 minutes away and they needed a victory bad, as they desperately wanted to improve their 1-4 record. But here was Krichati doing something that would seem peculiar to the average eye right before the team bus left for Del Norte High School.

“Before every game, I pray to the ring, on my necklace, which my father used to wear,” he said. “I do this to acknowledge his presence.”

Football means a lot to Krichati, all right. It’s obvious. But his father meant much more. Krichati remembers the stories of how Baba became an aerospace engineer after immigrating here from Syria with only a bag of clothes and no knowledge of the English language. He remembers all the years of guidance and diligent care that Baba gave him.

At age 2, Krichati was able to mouth out the word “Baba” to his father.

At age 9, Baba beat Krichati in a race at their local park and told his son, “One day, you will beat me.”

Age 10, Baba got to see Krichati’s first youth football game.

At age 15, Baba took Krichati to Wichita, Kansas to help work at his restaurant.

“One day we were working together and we were cutting up the tomatoes together and I remember us just talking and laughing and making jokes and it was one of the first times I realized how lucky I was to be spending this time with my father,” Krichati said.

Then, at age 16, at the end of his sophomore year, Baba was no more. The news came cold and swift during the evening of May 30, 2017.

“I went to the mosque that night because it was holy night of Ramadan,” Krichati said. “Me and my dad go every time.”

But by the time prayer had started at the mosque, Baba was nowhere to be found.

“It was just so unlike him to skip prayer or even not come home before,” he said.

Midway through the prayer, Krichat’s phone vibrated in his pocket. A text appeared that would forever change the course of his life.

“I received a text from an unknown number that said, ‘Omar come home,’” he said. “I rushed out of the mosque and floored it home as fast as I could.”

When Krichati opened his front door, nothing would have ever been able to prepare him for the scene that fell before his eyes.

“I saw my mom’s friend’s face, sad, pale and speechless, she looked at me and said, ‘Omar, I have to telling you something,’” he said. “Before she could say anything, I saw my mom on the couch crying and my sister yelling ‘It’s not true, it’s not true.’ That’s when I realized what was happening. And my mom’s friend proceeded and said, ‘Your dad got in an accident.’”

Earlier that day, while Baba was driving home from work, westbound along Mercy Road in Mira Mesa, he lost control of his car and swerved into a tree at a high speed. The ensuing scene was what NBC news described as painful to anyone who saw it. Flames erupted from the vehicle and while firefighters spent an hour trying to wrench Baba free from the inferno, he had already passed away.

“I was in complete disbelief,” Krichati said. “I had this feeling that I wanted to just wake up from what I believed was just a nightmare. I was speechless, I could feel my tears run down my face. And I stood watching my sister yell and my mom slowly fall to the ground asking God ‘Why?’ There was nothing, no emotion that I had before that felt like what I was feeling in that moment.”

Baba was the man who shed tears of joy when Krichati was born. Baba was the man who would take Krichati to Kansas City every year to help run his restaurant. Baba was the man who introduced Krichati to football, the man who unwaveringly showed up to every single one of his games since youth football. Baba made Krichati the man he is today. His childhood doesn’t exist without Baba in the picture. And now, Baba was gone. The road ahead was tough and daunting. From finishing schoolwork to going to practice to going home, nothing would ever be the same.

“Everything just felt so strange and weird without my dad,” Krichati said. “I also had a lot of self-doubt in myself and I started to feel that I could never be ‘the man’ that my family expected me to be. I really went into this deep depression because I didn’t believe that I could hold this role for my family.”

For the first couple of months, life around the house was hard. His role in the family had changed significantly and he now had much more on his plate.

“At home there was a huge shift,” he said.” Since I was the first son I was told that I now was ‘the man of the house.’ I realized that I now more responsibilities and I would have to learn to take care of them. One of the biggest things that I started to realize, after my Grandma and aunt moved in with me, my two sisters, my mom, and little brother, when there was fighting I had to take on the role my dad played on being the voice of reason and trying to help everyone work it out.”

On top of that, schoolwork and football became heavy burdens. There was so much expected of him and yet it seemed like hardly anyone around him understood the pain and stress he was going through.

“It was tough because I had all of this to deal with and at the same time I had to get through school and practice and pretend like everything was normal and going fine,” he said.

But amidst all of his dark circumstances, Krichati saw light. Much of this light came from his faith.

“I believed that God chose me because God believed I could do it and that was my view of it and it helped me build the confidence to take on that role,” he said. “I think that built me into the man I am today and I cherish it in every decision I make, and how it could not only affect me but my family as well. It’s simply what has built me to be the best man I could be.”

In addition, Krichati found relief in various hobbies and activities in his daily life—primarily football.

“Football became one of my biggest stress-relievers because not only did it keep my mind occupied while I was practicing, but it allowed me to bond with the team, who I felt like were my brothers, and all my coaches really made me just forget all the problems I had off the field,” he said. “They allowed me to really focus on something else other than the emotions that were built up in me. Another big factor was the games. Once the game started, I only focused on football, Nothing else mattered. On the turf, between the whistles, I was able to release all my stress and forget all my problems for those few hours.”

Fast forward to Sept. 21 and it was gametime. As Krichati sprinted onto Del Norte High School’s football field for kickoff, the man who had meant so much to his life was on his mind just as always. The Nighthawks didn’t know what was coming, for they did not know Omar Krichati. They did not know all the hardships he had gone through. They did not know he was tougher than steel, that no pain inflicted from the game would ever come close to the pain he felt after losing Baba. As always, Krichati was going to do what he did best—put up a fight. The Wolverines lost, 27-21, in overtime. But not without a long and arduous battle and nine tackles and a sack from Krichati. That game, Krichati did something he rarely does. He played on offense and scored his first touchdown ever. But after the game, Krichati was still furious.

“Omar is always so tough on himself,” teammate Elijah Johnson (11) said. “He is such a great team leader and he often puts the blame on himself even when it’s not even close to his fault.”

Despite this, Krichati would eventually do what he always does after every game. He would hug his mother, Lilas. Lilas made everything better. She was one of the few people who was always there for Krichati, who felt the exact same pain he felt in his toughest times. For while football was a reminder to him of his father, his mother was a reminder to keep on pushing. Pushing through with the results of the game and getting ready for the next. Pushing through the struggles of high school. And pushing through life itself. Because if there’s anything that Krichati has learned about life other than the fact that it’s a complete crapshoot that often makes no sense, it’s that he will never