A Grays Ferry football star committed to a prominent New York-based university.
When Jamal Custis was looking for a secondary education site three years ago, he let his love of basketball influence his selection of Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St. When seeking a higher learning institution this summer, the resident of the 1500 block of South 32nd Street and member of three parochial league championship hoop squads called on his other athletic infatuation, football, to help him to choose Syracuse University.
“It is interesting that my second sport is the one I’ll go to college for,” the 17-year-old senior said Monday at his East Passyunk Crossing school. “Whatever the case, I feel fortunate to have a chance to improve as a competitor.”
The Grays Ferry denizen committed to the Upstate New York-situated facility Sept. 8, grateful for its gridiron coaches’ year-long interest in him. Turning down many suitors, including Temple University, where his brother Kadeem, a 2009 Neumann-Goretti alumnus, donned a helmet for the Owls, the 6-foot-6 wide receiver figures to factor immediately into the Atlantic Coast Conference unit’s offensive strategies.
“It will be a fantastic opportunity to grow, especially because I feel the school has a great family-oriented theme,” Custis said of aiding the Orange, whose conference clashes involve dates with powerhouses Florida State University and the University of Miami and matchups against other solid foes.
His future location has registered 699 victories in its history, which includes fielding players such as Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, future enshrinee and Philadelphia product Marvin Harrison and former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, but has tallied only two winning seasons since ’01. Under first-year coach Scott Shafer, whom Custis lauds as “a cool guy,” this year’s performers have begun 1-2, with the local pigskin player especially attentive to their style of play and execution.
“I’m ready to put in all the necessary work because I know how difficult it’s going to be to try to succeed if I don’t,” he said of expectations for guiding his pending pals to renown. “There’s really no point in going if I’m not committed to getting better.”
Custis is seeking similar success for the Saints. Last year’s roster fillers amassed a 6-5 mark, the school’s first winning campaign since ’06, with the target collecting 29 catches for 628 yards and nine touchdowns. He earned a First-Team All-Catholic offensive selection, like brother Sharif, now a redshirt freshman at the University of Massachusetts, and a Second-Team defensive back nod. He nabbed two balls in the Saints’ 35-12 victory over Horace Furness High School, 1900 S. Third St., Aug. 30 and will look to take his team to a 2-1 record Saturday against host Chester.
“I’m happy I committed early so I can be stress-free and concentrate on this season,” Custis, who praised the Saints’ mix of veteran and young talent, said. “Before, I’d say we were playing to survive, but now we feel different, especially me because I’m a captain. It’s all or nothing because we want a championship.”
The confident character has grown accustomed to participating in end-of-the-season celebrations. He first felt attracted to basketball as a sixth-grader at St. Thomas Aquinas School, 1719 Morris St., and added football the next year through the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Youth Organization, earning titles his initial year in each.
“I started just wanting to contribute, but I saw people getting awards and decided to dedicate myself to working on my game,” the teenager said. “I applied myself and developed my physicality and footwork, which I feel have really helped me here.”
Custis believed basketball would yield him greater success and even pondered quitting football. Doubling his duties, he became a sought-after presence for numerous institutions, with Southern Methodist University involving him in a unique situation.
“People came to look at Ja’Quan [Newton] and apparently I impressed them, too,” Custis said of his basketball teammate who last month committed to the University of Miami. “They were prepared to give me a scholarship for football, too.”
Had he headed to SMU, he would have gained basketball instruction from Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, who guided the 76ers to the ’01 NBA Finals. Mulling over the offer, Custis felt the location would not offer the best match for his aspirations, though he remains thankful for the consideration. Though Syracuse has received his pledge to solidify their aerial attack, he has not ruled out trying to walk on for the basketball team, which Jim Boeheim, another Hall of Famer, helms. If he doesn’t earn a roster spot, Custis will still become the fourth South Philadelphia figure to perform in the Carrier Dome (also home to the school’s basketball team), joining fellow Saints Rick Jackson and Antonio “Scoop” Jardine and South-of-South product Dion Waiters, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“It’s a very interesting time in my life,” Custis said of having made his decision, looking to make his high school football swan song a success and preparing for his starting power forward role for the five-time defending Catholic League basketball titlists. “I want to be a force for coach [Carl] Arrigale and get us another championship.”
No matter if he adds more crowns as a high school athlete, he will feel incredibly prepared because each system has taught him discipline and accountability, which he will apply as a likely business or sports management major.
“I would like to go pro, but if it doesn’t work out, I believe one of them will be a good fit,” Custis said. “It will all make more sense soon.”
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.
For the past 15 years, Shawn Brown has helped build young teenagers character and values on the football field and in the classroom.
When he enters the professional world, Sharif Custis might do so as an engineer, owing to his interests in building.
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