The Redskins Rookie Review series is presented by Medliminal, the Official Health and Wellness Partner of the Washington Redskins.
In Keith Ismael's mind, there is only one person that stands in the way of accomplishing your goals: yourself.
That philosophy fosters constant self-competition. On the football field, in the classroom and even in the kitchen, Ismael obsesses over being the best version of himself.
Ismael's next challenge will come with the Washington Redskins, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He already sees himself as the most versatile offensive lineman in this draft class, as he can play all three interior positions. And with continual improvement, he believes he can be so much more.
"I want to prove to myself that I can do it. I want to make my dreams come true," Ismael said during a videoconference call May 14. "Right now, for as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a player in the National Football League, and I want to be the best at my position that ever was. That's what drives me."
Ismael's innate competitiveness began as a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He lived about five minutes away from Candlestick Park -- home of the San Francisco 49ers from 1971 through 2013 -- and whenever his father drove past the stadium, he exclaimed, "Daddy, one day I'm going to play in that stadium."
Ismael comes from a football family; his father played center at Florida A&M, while his one uncles played defensive end at Oregon and another, Tavita Pritchard, played quarterback at Stanford and is now the offensive coordinator there. Yet another uncle was drafted in the first round in the 1970s by the Atlanta Falcons.
Of course, football was a large factor in Ismael committing to San Diego State, as he could compete for playing time early and develop within a pro-style offense. But the biggest reason he became an Aztec was because the school offered his desired major, aerospace engineering.
"One of my coaches at San Diego State, coach Hunkie Cooper, used to always say, 'You've got to think 40 years, not just four,'" Ismael said. "So I just tried to go into college and be the best college player I could be, the best student off the field and the best teammate."
Ismael changed his major after about a year, but his drive to succeed remained strong. He recently earned his degree in international security and conflict resolution, and once his football career ends, he wants to work in food security in third-world countries. He envisions working for organizations such as the United Nations or the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
He also has a passion for cooking and can make everything from barbecue to pastas and soul food. As it turns out, even his hobbies require his best effort.
"Whether I'm working in real estate or I'm working at McDonald's, I'm going to be the best damn drive-thru server that you'll ever have," Ismael said. "It just goes down to me beating myself."
For now, Ismael has chosen the path of a professional football player. He first realized that was within reach after his redshirt sophomore season when he earned the first of two first-team All-Mountain West selections. Not only was he consistently being his own competition, but he was also viewed as the versatile leader of the offensive line, someone who could call out protections from the center spot or line up at either guard position.
The Redskins made Ismael's dream a reality, and he plans on rewarding them by playing fast, consistent and technical wherever they decide to play him. But the work does not stop here.
In the absence of in-person offseason activities, Ismael will be in Texas working with renowned offensive line guru Duke Manyweather. He and fellow Redskins draft pick Saahdiq Charles trained with Manyweather before the NFL Scouting Combine, and with extra time on his hands, Ismael is going back.
To become the best, Ismael knows he must learn from and compete against the best. And even amid an unusual offseason, there's no time to waste.
"I'm just trying to be a sponge right now, just gain as much knowledge as I can, and take my game to the next level," Ismael said, "[I] just want to learn, I guess you could say...how to be the best pro possible."