Mich. school practices 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Updated: August 16, 2010, 10:12 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

DEARBORN, Mich. -- A Michigan high school football team is holding preseason practices in the middle of the night to help its Muslim players practice both faith and football.

The predominantly Muslim squad from Dearborn says the nocturnal regimen is a way for players to eat and drink while observing the holy month of daytime fasting known as Ramadan that started last week.

The August heat also played a factor in Fordson High coach Fouad Zaban's proposal to reverse the clock for a week of two-a-day practices.

[+] EnlargeKamel Farajthrows
AP Photo/Paul SancyaIt was nearly 1 a.m. when Kamel Farajthrows of the Fordson High School junior varsity team delivered a pass during practice last week.

Cutting practice wasn't an option at football-crazy Fordson, which is coming off a one-loss season and has won four state titles and three runner-up seasons since it was established in 1928.

But nobody wanted to lessen the significance of Ramadan in the Detroit suburb widely known as the capital of Arab-America.

The moonlight practice is tailored for Adnan Restum and fellow Muslim teammates.

Illuminated by the night lights on the football field, Restum recently joined a scrum of teammates at the end-zone water fountain, taking a break from a grueling preseason football workout to guzzle a drink.

In just a few hours, he wouldn't be able to take a sip. But the 17-year-old defensive tackle could rehydrate guilt-free during the 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. practice, and succumb to tempting boxes full of granola bars and chocolate milk, too.

"It feels really great," said Restum, who has been fasting since he was about 10. "If we're doing it during the day, we wouldn't have water and it would be really hot and everything."

Zaban proposed the late practices after realizing the rotating Ramadan would fall squarely during the start of a two-a-day practice schedule that launches football season.

Zaban, 40, a Muslim and former Fordson player, knows the high stakes. When Ramadan falls during football season, the players practice during daylight hours. But with August's heat and doubled practice schedule, concerns grew about players' health, particularly the high risk of heat stroke.

"We know how hot it's been this summer -- it's not safe," Zaban said.

Working it out meant getting the approval of school and district administrators and the blessings of players, parents and police. Then, there were the residents in the surrounding neighborhood, who would hear more noise and see the illuminated field. So he sent letters explaining the decision.

Zaban is unaware of such schedule switches elsewhere, though other teams at the school and in the district have moved practices earlier or later in the day. It's been more than three decades since Ramadan last fell during football preseason and Fordson's Muslim population was far smaller then -- and, he notes, there were no field lights.

Zaban said the goal has been to let players break the fast at sundown and go to the mosque, and get players out in time for a meal and morning prayer before sunrise. The field is near bustling bakeries, cafes and restaurants catering to late-night customers.

But first, there are drills.

"Keep running! Heads up!" Zaban yelled while leading a passing drill. And, when a receiver flubbed a one-handed catch, the coach barked, "Hey, two hands!" The result was 20 push-ups.

Zaban said whether players fast is a personal choice and never an issue raised by him or his staff. Still, he says, it shouldn't be an excuse for poor performance for the roughly 95 percent who do.

He ended the session before 4 a.m. with a message to the huddled, padded masses to "drink lots of water," "get a good meal in," and "man up."

Defensive tackle William Powell, one of the team's few non-Muslims, initially thought the coach was "out of his mind," but he's come around. In fact, he's even fasted.

"I'm around 'em, so I've tried a couple times but it's hard," the 17-year-old said.

For Rami Fakih, a wide receiver and defensive back, the nocturnal regimen has taken some adjustment but for different reasons. The brother of recently crowned Miss USA Rima Fakih said he had to think twice before hitting the fountain.

"Oh yeah," he said. "Then I remembered, you know. I looked up. There's no sun. I can drink. I can eat."

With that, he walked off the field and into the darkness with plans to grab a quick bite with friends at a local bakery.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.