Ishmael's success fueled by rare work ethic

A relentless pursuit of becoming the best has fueled Steve Ishmael's rise to Syracuse's top receiving threat only seven games into his true freshman season.

Steve Ishmael was looking forward to his senior season at North Miami Beach High School. It was the annual spring game, and he was ready to put on a show. But during the game, he felt a pop in his knee. After evaluation from his doctor, it was determined that he tore his meniscus.

Ishmael was contemplating surgery over the summer. If he went that route, however, it would mean missing most if not all of his senior season. Ishmael decided to tough it out and play his final high school campaign with the torn meniscus.

It may sound crazy to some, but he was able to still be very productive despite the injury and going against Florida high school talent.

"I would say it was pretty hard playing with a torn meniscus because I couldn't get in and out of my cuts like I normally do,” Ishmael said at the time. “If you see my game film, you'll see me hold my knee sometimes after I get tackled.”

Ishmael said he finished his senior season with 70 catches for 1,027 yards and 18 touchdowns.

It was an off day for the Syracuse football players, but the Orange coaches were hard at work. Head coach Scott Shafer was leaving his Manley Field House office and was walking towards his vehicle in the parking lot. Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye.

He noticed someone in cleats, with a stack of cones pinned between his arm and his hip, walking towards the practice fields. Shafer quickly recognized the person in question. It was his freshman wide receiver, Steve Ishmael.

”He’s definitely a true gym rat,” Shafer said. “He just loves to play and he always thinks he can be doing something to get better. To some degree, he reminds me of Shamarko Thomas with regards to his work ethic.

”He’s always looking for little things to do to make him better.”

It was nearly midnight, and offensive coordinator Tim Lester was in his office working on the game plan for Syracuse’s first conference road test of the season at Wake Forest. Late nights are not unusual for Lester or any of the other coaches on the staff.

What is unusual is what happened next. A security guard knocked on Lester’s door, immediately causing him to fear the worst.

”I don’t remember what time it was,” Lester said. “I was up in the office and he was out on the field doing latter drills by himself. I didn’t even know he was out there…I was in my office game planning at 11:30 at night. I looked outside and I saw Ish out the little window. Then, I saw a DPS (department of public safety) office behind him.

”I was like, ‘oh my God what happened to Ish.’ The DPS office was like, ‘listen, he wants to get in the building to shower. I just need someone to say he’s OK to be in the building.’”

Of course Lester said it was OK and Ishmael was allowed to enter the building in order to shower.

”I’m just getting better every week,” Ishmael said. “I’m trying to just help the team as much as possible. I’m grinding more. I’m working harder. My goal is I want to be the best. But I can’t be the best if I don’t make the play, if I don’t work hard.”

Steve Ishmael leads Syracuse in touchdown receptions as a true freshman. He is also second on the team with 248-yards, first on the team with a 16.5-yards per catch average and third in receptions with 15.

Of those numbers, nine catches, 165-yards and both touchdowns have come in the last two games. Both scores came against future NFL cornerback P.J. Williams of Florida State. A credit to his continued hard work off the field which has led to productivity on it.

Ishmael is also the only receiver to have a catch in every game.

But it’s not just drills and repetitions that have allowed Ishmael to improve as a receiver to become Syracuse’s most reliable receiving threat.

”The one thing he’s learning how to do a much better job of is eat,” Shafer said. “I know it sounds crazy. But the importance of eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. And he lives with coach Hicks and they monitor his diet. Steve’s getting to the point where he’s into every facet that can help him become a better player.”

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