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WR Steve Ishmael doing all he can to turn Syracuse from underdog into frontrunner

first_img Related Stories Steve Ishmael has breakout performance in loss to Pittsburgh Steve Ishmael’s greatest weakness was his weakness. He lacked the physique of a college football hopeful.Then a high school freshman, a 162-pound Ishmael went to make a block on a defender 40 pounds larger. He was pushed backward so easily the defender taunted him.“‘Man you got to go to the weight room,’” Ishmael said the defender told him. “I took that so personal. Ever since then, I’ve literally been in the weight room every day taking it serious.”His older brothers were bigger than he was too. Their size reminded him of the same thing that the defender did.With Ishmael’s strength a perpetual work in progress, his college aspirations were nonexistent until he received his first offer from Western Michigan. It was a shock to Ishmael in his junior year, something he never expected and hardly believed when it happened.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textI was like, ‘Wow. Me?’Steve IshmaelIshmael eventually chose Syracuse over offers from Oregon and Tennessee in order to help a program trying to turn things around — a desire to help that defines him. He increased his weight from 178 pounds as a freshman last season to 205 now and is the Orange’s (3-5, 1-3 Atlantic Coast) leading receiver with 397 yards, 26 receptions and four touchdowns, three of which have come in the past four games.Ishmael wants to be a part of what makes Syracuse great. He accepts the current struggles, because ingrained in his decision to play for SU was his desire to turn things around and make an underdog a frontrunner.“When you see them change, that’s when you’ll be like, ‘Man, they really did it,’” Ishmael said. “… If I changed the channel and saw the Rockets vs. the Suns and the Suns are losing by 20, I’ll be like, ‘Come on Suns!’” In three games this year, Ishmael’s caught just one pass. But the Orange won two of those three and he understands it comes down to matchups. While he says there’s always room for improvement, especially in his route running, Ishmael takes pride in blocking for teammates when he doesn’t get the ball.Since the age of 5, Ishmael’s been working on his craft. He’d play outside with his older brothers Kemal, a safety on the Atlanta Falcons, and Trevor, a former player at Western Michigan.That’s how Ishmael learned to snatch passes out of the air. His fundamentals grew and his outstanding body control followed suit.On a 53-yard touchdown against Wake Forest on Sept. 12, Ishmael caught the ball behind the cornerback covering him in a cover two. The safety sprinted toward him to make a tackle, but Ishmael swung out his hips and avoided him.“I think it’s his ability to make plays when everything in front of him is a bit of a mess,” SU head coach Scott Shafer said, “which says a lot about his ability to see multiple things at once.”The reliability that Ishmael provides on the field is the same one he does off it.The summer entering Ishmael’s senior year of high school, neighbor and teammate Immel Rai needed a place to live due to family issues. The Ishmaels took Rai in, which was one of the only ways Rai could continue playing for North Miami Beach (Florida) High School. They treated him like any other kid in the family.I probably wouldn’t have made it through high school or made it anywhere without Steve and his family.Immel RaiOne time, former teammate Buthler Jean’s car broke down on Interstate 95 traveling north and he needed a jumpstart.Though Ishmael lived more than 20 minutes away, he was the first person Jean called.“I knew he would come through for me,” Jean said.In high school, Ishmael also played cornerback. In three seasons, only two catches were made against him, Jean said. Ishmael, though, never saw himself as a cornerback. His primary focus was wide receiver and that’s the position he considered playing in college.He did it anyway because it was a way to help his team.“That’s Steve for you,” Jean said.Ishmael, a devout Christian, recognizes the power faith has in bringing people closer together. He’s tried to drag teammates to church, roommate Ervin Philips said. Amid a season in which Syracuse has used four different quarterbacks, it’s his way of trying to build team chemistry.When the Orange lost to Pittsburgh on Oct. 24, Ishmael surpassed career highs in both receptions and yards. But in the fourth quarter, he dropped a crucial pass in the red zone that could have helped extend a drive to give SU the lead.Three days afterward, offensive coordinator Tim Lester said the only thing Ishmael thought about following the game was that one drop. Lester assured his receiver that SU wouldn’t have been competitive without him that day.He tried to cheer him up, but still, Lester took comfort in how focused Ishmael was on improving on his failure so it wouldn’t happen again.Ishmael roots for underdogs, but he doesn’t want Syracuse to be one anymore.“That’s the way he thinks,” Lester said, “and that’s a really good sign about what type of kid he is and where he can go.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Published on November 4, 2015 at 11:14 pm Contact Paul: [email protected] | @pschwedslast_img

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