When you play for a top collegiate program like LSU, the expectations immediately increase.
That was the case for edge rusher Ali Gaye, who immigrated to the United States with his family from Gambia at age 12, beginning to play American football two years later. He spent his first two years of collegiate eligibility at the junior college level — at Arizona Western and Garden City, respectively — before signing with the Tigers leading up to the 2020 season. He stepped in and contributed right away, tallying a sack, 2 tackles for a loss and 3 pass deflections in his first game with the team. Now, he looks to take his game to the next level.
Gaye spoke with Windy City Gridiron about representing Gambia and the continent of Africa at the NFL level, playing on a stacked LSU defensive line, the pre-draft process, and more.
JI: You’ve had an incredible success story, immigrating over from Gambia to becoming an immediate starter for LSU. Looking back on it all, what went into getting to where you are today?
AG: A lot went into getting me to where I am today: a lot of support went into it from family and friends, a lot of dedication and hard work. My parents envisioned me coming here and working hard in school, graduating, and just finding my way out into the world in the States, Football wasn’t what they envisioned, but there was an outlet for me to find my circle, my community outside of home, make friends, find a brotherhood that I could belong to, and football gave me that. Once [I got] opportunity to pursue a college education and an opportunity to continue my football career, I had to put everything I [had and] give it my all. I work hard at it. I work hard to get better every single day to be the best that I can be, so I can get opportunities that I got, and get a chance to be make something of myself. I work hard on it, working on my craft. I want to be the best that I could be out on the field and just make my family proud, [make] the name on the back of my jersey proud and the flag where I came from proud. I just put myself out there and just make a name for myself.
JI: What does it mean to you to soon be representing Gambia at the NFL level?
AG: When you ask people like me who came from overseas, it’s almost like winning the lottery. We’re coming into a country that’s so well-developed in so many opportunities, so many doors, paths that you can follow, and just apply yourself in whatever it is that you want to apply yourself into life and just roll with it, and just be the best that you can be at it. We don’t take anything for granted, because we know that those opportunities are not presented to us back home. When we see it, we know we’re gonna make something big of ourselves. It doesn’t matter what it is: sports, education, doesn’t matter what it is. It means a lot for me, knowing that where I came from, there’s not much, so the only way is up and move forward. [We’re] making the best of life, whatever life gives you.
For me, my family back home knows that I’m working hard at something, and they know that I’m trying to make them proud. I’m trying to come back home and do what I can and put the next kid that’s in the same boat as me, give him a role model: somebody that he can look up to, somebody that he can look at and say, “no, that’s possible”. It may be one in a million, but I’m gonna be that one in a million. I’m gonna make things happen. It’ll mean a lot for me to go back home and be able to say that I’m doing this. It wasn’t possible without where I came from, the people that made me. I do this for them in hopes of making them proud.
JI: You’ve played alongside some really talented defensive linemen at LSU. What did being in that kind of environment with so many fellow future NFLers do for your game?
AG: It gives me perspective of where I can be. I know where I am, but it gives me a perspective...it lets me know that this is the level that I can reach. Going to NFL: that’s the goal. The goal is to now be in a league and make a difference, on the field, off the field. Watching guys and growing up, watching TV and [seeing] how NFL players are, they set the standard for how a person should be: more than an athlete. There’s a lot more that you’re gonna accomplish, not only on the field, but I look at them as role models. It gives me perspective of who I can be and the kind of difference and the impact that I can make, not only on the field, but off the field, as well.
I looked up to those guys from the moment I started watching the NFL, I’ve seen a lot of guys doing some great things on the field, and I know there’s a great deal of time and effort that goes into what makes them who they are. I try to do those things early on, right now. I’ve done it in my career at LSU, before LSU, and you see that’s how they carry themselves as players and people, in general. It just shows who I can be and what kind of person that I can be and the kind of time that I can put in to make something of myself.
JI: You had the chance to go to both the Senior Bowl and the Combine. How were those opportunities for you?
AG: It was a great experience. I had a great time. You’re going into an interview process, you got to put your best foot forward, you got to show the guys, you got to convince them, [to draft you]. These guys are not around you 24/7, so the chance that you get with them, you got a chance to tell them who Ali Gaye is, and I’ve had a chance to do that during the interview process, during [Senior Bowl] practices and Combine on-the-field workouts. It was a great chance for me to present them who I was as a person, as a player, and get to know them as well, and get familiar with it.
JI: If you had to pick, what’s your favorite move as a pass rusher?
AG: My favorite move I would say would be the jab double-hand swipe? I think it’s a very deadly move when you think about it, and it’s a very efficient and clean move to beat the offensive lineman with. Offensive linemen are taught to shoot their hands to disrupt your your pass-rush lane. I use that because I feel like it’s the cleanest way to beat the offensive linemen. Once I jab, that’s a fake I get for them to shoot their hands; that’s a bait. Once they shoot their hands, I have a counter off of that, and that’s when I bring my two-handed swipe and beat them to the hand. Once I beat him to the hand, it’s over. Next thing you know, I’m in the backfield making a play.
JI: In your specific case, I can imagine having the long arms like yours would make it easier to prevent them from getting hands inside your frame.
AG: Yep, it definitely is. Once you beat the hand, you beat the man. If the offensive lineman does the job, the job uses his hands to block you. The only thing to worry about...they can be as big as they can be, but the only thing you need to worry about is those hands, but you also got to have counters off of that, if that doesn’t work. There’s always power, you’re coming off the edge with speed. Once you come up with speed, trying to beat him with a double-hand [swipe], and if that fails, your speed is there. You gotta turn it to power and convert it and drive it into the quarterback’s lap.
JI: How do you spend your free time outside of football?
AG: I’m a homebody, so I like to chill at home. I don’t really get into too much. In my free time, I like to get in kitchen. I get on the phone with my mom and try to get some recipes to throw on the stove. I like to cook, and I like to read a little bit and relax, go catch a movie, hang out with friends. Stuff like that, you know? But yeah, I’m pretty much a homebody. I like to be at home, chilling and relaxing in my downtime.
JI: What are some of your go-tos in the kitchen?
AG: I may go traditional West African food. I’d cook up some jollof rice, or this other dish called yassa; it’s like chicken and onions, or this thing called domodah; it’s like peanut stew. I have a few things in my arsenal that I like to get down in the kitchen with. I’m still learning to cook. I’m working on my cookbook right now. I was talking to my mom last night about making a cookbook and get all the recipes. She’s not gonna give it up easily. I got to spend some time in the kitchen with her, and hopefully she’ll give it up.
JI: I’m not super familiar with West African food, but it sounds really good. I’d love to try it.
AG: Hopefully, we can get a chance to set that up, but I want to tell you this, man: once you taste it, you will never go back. It’s definitely good food, good spices and dishes. Once you try it, you know you’ll love it.
JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?
AG: You’re getting the full package in me: the player, the person, a leader who leads not only by voice, but also by example. You get a guy who’s versatile [and] can play multiple positions on the D-line. You get a guy that is new to the game but loves to learn and study the game. You’re getting a guy who’s gonna come in every day like it’s the first day all over again, and that includes getting the best out of me every single day. I love to be coached. I love being a part of a team, and I love rubbing off on people the right way. I come with a smile every day, a positive attitude, and with great enthusiasm.
My 2023 NFL Draft guide is out now on my Patreon! Make sure to subscribe if you haven’t already. For just $1 a month, you’ll get access to my entire big board, a 7-round mock draft for each team, in-depth scouting reports, player comparisons and more!