Even though Tarek Saleh didn't attend Waunakee High school, he is just as excited for Waunakee football to begin as the next fan.
"I can't wait to root on the Warriors," Saleh said. As a matter fact, football ranks high on Saleh's list of interests.
Saleh grew up in Woodbridge, Conn., just outside of New Haven, the middle child between two sisters. His father immigrated to the United States in the early 1960s from the West Bank. He attended Yale on an academic scholarship and met Saleh's mother during their college years, she, graduating from South Connecticut State University. After they were married the couple decided to stay in the area.
Sports was a huge part of Saleh's school days and he did every sport possible. His parents wouldn't allow Saleh to play football until age 10 because of the physical risks. But once he donned the helmet and pads, he excelled. Saleh narrowed his sports participation in high school to baseball and football, playing different positions.
Saleh graduated from Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Conn.
"I was well rounded. The school gave me the opportunity to do well in the classroom and on the field," Saleh said. His extracurricular activities did not only center on sports. Saleh played guitar, volunteered, was a counselor mentoring younger high school students and a Eucharistic minister in his church.
His success on the high school football field translated into numerous college possibilities. Recruited by Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College and UW-Madison, Saleh was in an athlete's enviable position. For many years, he had his sights on Penn State. But the previous year, a well-known player from Connecticut attended UW-Madison.
"I was intrigued with Madison. What's in Wisconsin and why did he choose it?" Saleh asked himself.
When his questions brought him to Madison for a visit, Saleh found himself impressed with the high energy of Coach Alvarez, his staff and the players.
"They were excited about football. At the time they were not successful. It was a lot of what it was going to be instead of what it is," Saleh said.
Along with UW's high academic reputation, Saleh decided to forgo his Penn State dream and in 1993 he became a Badger.
His first year was a transitional one for Saleh. The next three years Saleh felt right at home becoming a starter, an All-American and team captain. And the anticipation of the team and coach Alvarez materialized into three bowl game wins in four years. The Rose Bowl in 1993, the Hall of Fame against Duke in 1994 and the Copper Bowl against Utah in 1996 and that was just the beginning.
"I traveled a lot and played a lot. It was a great experience," Saleh said. Saleh graduated with a communication degree.
In 1997, Saleh was drafted in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers. For two years he played special team and outside linebacker where as a Badger he played defensive end.
"It was very fast and very physical," Saleh said of the switch. "I played with some great football players like Sam Mills, Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, and Kerry Collins. I was doing something as a job I always dreamed of as a child," Saleh said.
In 1999, Saleh was drafted to the Cleveland Browns through the NFL expansion draft. Here he played in the fullback position for two years and as a linebacker for one year.
"I loved Cleveland. The people are very passionate about their football in Ohio," Saleh said.
After five years of professional football, Saleh decided to return to Madison to reconnect.
"I had a foundation and a good network of people and friends," Saleh said. He began work for World Tech Travel based out of New Haven, Conn. Working out of his home Saleh, sold travel plans and packages primarily to college teams and for corporate travel. Saleh had an opportunity to join LIDS Team Sports formally Impact Sports, out of DeForest. LIDS Team Sports provides sports uniforms, custom apparel, footwear and equipment to a range of customers including colleges, universities, high schools, youth organizations and corporations.
Recently, Saleh has became the business development director in the LIDS Clubhouse division of the company, which operates team-specific professional sports and university athletic retail stores. On behalf of the organization, LIDS owns and operates team concept stores such as the Yankee Clubhouse in Manhattan. The University of Kansas, University of Kentucky and Auburn University are among LIDS school clients.
"It was difficult to give up pro football. I miss the teammates, the competition and the high level. This keeps me in sports, staying engaged with organizations and building relationships," Saleh said.
Saleh is involved with the NFL Alumni Association Madison Chapter of which UW Children's Hospital is its main benefactor of the association's charity giving.
Starting at the end of this month and lasting through the Super Bowl, Saleh, along with former Badger and teammate Derek Engler and reporter Jim Rutledge host "In The Trenches" on ESPN Madison 100.5 FM, Thursday nights 5-7 p.m. The three give their perspective and breakdown analysis of professional and college football. The program is live from local Dane County restaurants and bars and sponsored by Bud Light.
"It's a great way to meet people and stay with football," Saleh said.
On the home front, Saleh keeps busy with his twin daughters, 6-year-old Ally and Kyla.
"They are the greatest thing that happened to me," Saleh said. And as with the Badgers, Saleh feels at home in Waunakee.
"It's great to be from another part of the country and be accepted by great people," Saleh said.