UMass lands Saints football recruit

An East Passyunk Crossing school’s star tight end
verbally committed to the New England institution.

By Joseph Myers

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 13, 2012

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Sharif Custis could help the University of Massachusetts football program to a turnaround next season. 

Photo by Greg Bezanis

When he enters the professional world, Sharif Custis might do so as an engineer, owing to his interests in building.

As a collegiate, the 18-year-old will first need to work on rebuilding, as he verbally committed Dec. 2 to the University of Massachusetts, an institution known far more for academic ascendancy than football formidability. The senior at Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., will look to make the Minutemen lasting contenders and have them join the Saints as squads he has helped to improve.

“I had been thinking about UMass for some time,” the resident of the 1500 block of South 32nd Street said last week at his East Passyunk Crossing secondary site, adding that Nov. 30’s official visit to its Amherst campus halted a recruiting process that had included Stony Brook and Temple universities. “I like the staff and players and hope to earn a chance to play early.”

Had the 6-foot-4 athlete chosen to matriculate at the North Broad Street school, he would have become his family’s second contributor to the Owls, as brother Kadeem Custis, a 2009 Neumann-Goretti alumnus, played four seasons for the area bunch. Though the younger Custis enjoys the idea of rejuvenating teams and certainly would have received opportunities to aid the Owls, who following last year’s 9-4 season, which included their program’s first bowl victory in 32 years, slumped to a 4-7 mark in their inaugural Big East campaign, he felt modifying Massachusetts, a 1-11 unit, would offer more challenges.

“I like that the team is rebuilding,” the Grays Ferry native said of his likely postsecondary squad, whose 152 points for and 482 points against both ranked the worst among Mid-American Conference squads. “Being there will make me focus more, want it more and help me to grow and encourage the other players.”

Though Custis could change his mind and make another suitor happy to inherit his imposing frame and curious brain, he believes he has found his next destination. If that mentality remains, he could give written intent next month or in the spring. No matter his final decision, the student-athlete has enjoyed the selection cycle, as it has taught him never to doubt his potential.

“I had not thought I would ever play college football,” Custis, whom schools such as Boston College and the University of Miami also found appealing, said. “I just wanted to see what fun I could get out of the game.”

He began his pigskin career as a member of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Youth Organization squad. Then an eighth grader at St. Thomas Aquinas School, 1719 Morris St., he enjoyed the game’s aggressive aspects and helped the Warriors as a wide receiver and a nose tackle. Seeking to duplicate his ironman success with Neumann-Goretti, he had to change course and focus only on defense at first.

“I did whatever I needed to help this team,” Custis said of losing his elementary duality.

Following his sophomore campaign, the Saints hired C.J. Szydlik, who expanded his role, giving him blocking and catching duties as a tight end.

“I had not wanted to play offense but warmed up to the idea,” the teenager said. “I saw it as a chance to learn more about the game, become a smarter player and be more versatile.”

Custis proved a blessing for last season’s Saints, snaring 11 balls for 289 yards and seven receiving touchdowns, earning First-Team All Catholic honors. Though they registered just four victories and suffered their fifth straight losing season, he sensed an imminent turnaround, and his teammates made him look like Nostradamus this year.

“I really felt we were ready to surprise some people,” Custis, who also earned a First-Team defensive designation last year, which he capped by scoring three touchdowns in the Turkey Bowl against South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., said. 

The Saints struggled this year against their parochial brethren, claiming one triumph from four contests, but five wins in seven non-league battles helped them to compile a 6-5 mark, sealing their site’s first winning season since ’06.

“We enjoyed being able to back up our belief with some solid efforts,” Custis, who picked up a First-Team multi-purpose selection and Second-Team tight end and defensive line plaudits, said.

The proud performer last suited up for Neumann-Goretti Thanksgiving morning, leading the Saints to a 21-12 victory over the Rams. The triumph allows him to graduate undefeated against his school’s Lower Moyamensing rival and gave him an extra boost of bravado, as he claimed MVP honors for catching two passes for 23 yards and delivering key blocks.

“I’m glad this year came together and wish the best to next year’s guys,” Custis, who finished as the team’s second-leading receiver behind junior target Jamal Custis, his brother and fellow First- and Second-Team honoree, said.

With UMass his likely pick, Custis feels more relaxed about the remainder of his senior year and will focus on his school work and his first season as a varsity basketball player.

“I have enjoyed this year so far and think it can get even better,” he said.

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