Steve Ishmael had one of the better freshman wide receiver campaigns at Syracuse in recent memory. He showed flashes that suggested he could blossom into a big time playmaker. That blossoming could happen as soon as this year with the need for a number one receiver to step up. Especially with the loss of last season’s top target Jarrod West.
But that won’t happen without some improvement. Even with some highlight reel plays and shining moments, Ishmael became less effective down the stretch of the season. The big reason was due to a lack of strength and opposing corners jamming him at the line of scrimmage.
Countering that with increased strength and technique has been a primary focus of Ishmael since the season ending loss at Boston College.
”I’ve actually put on about 10 pounds,” Ishmael said. “Last year I was 188, I’m 198 right now. I’m trying to get up to at least 202. It’s been helping a lot when we’re out there at practice. All of the corners, Julian Whigham, Wayne Morgan all say I’ve gotten stronger and it’s harder to press me now.
”It’s just about getting physical at the line and continue working. Even on the off days, I’ve got to get my legs stronger. I’ve been focusing on my upper body but I’ve got to my legs stronger now.”
Even better news is that Ishmael says the increased strength and muscle has not resulted in a loss of speed. In fact, he believes he is faster now than he was last season.
Going forward, the task is to learn the new offense under Tim Lester. Despite a new system, Ishmael feels more comfortable due to his bond with the coaching staff.
”It’s a huge comfort level now,” Ishmael said. “Especially with the offense, I’ve mastered a few plays. We’ve got a couple of new plays. But it’s just getting more comfortable with the coaches, coach Shafer and coach Lester. One thing I love about them is that they’re all positive coaches.
”They all just focus on the next play even if you mess up. So it’s all real comfortable.”
Though it is still early in the implementation of the new offense, Ishmael likes what they have learned to this point. He says there is a more focused approach in this offense as opposed to learning a bunch of different plays with the intention of running them as quickly as possible.
”This offense is focused on trying to master one specific thing,” Ishmael said. “It’s a lot more running, but the passing game should open up. It’s more like a pro-style offense. I really love the offense. We have a couple of easy plays in there like quick hitches. Just easy completions. But I really like the offense.”
As if learning a new offense wasn’t enough, he is also adjusting to a new position coach. Bobby Acosta has taken over as the wide receivers coach with George McDonald’s departure. While there is an obvious difference in coaching style, Ishmael believes it may mesh better with his personality.
”I would say the intensity,” Ishmael said. “Coach McDonald was a laid back coach but coach Acosta is more of a hype guy. Some days I’ll come in there lousy, but he already knows. He’s already screaming at me to get me back straight. So I would say it’s the intensity, but they’re both good coaches.”
The last piece of the puzzle is developing chemistry with quarterback Terrel Hunt. The two had a chance to do that a little bit last season, but an injury that prematurely ended Hunt’s season stunted some of that growth.
”We’re actually working really good after practice,” Ishmael said. “After practice, every time I get a couple extra throws in with him, we’re just building up a relationship. Even off the field. I go over to his house sometimes. We just really want to take that off the field and on the field stuff to the game and hopefully make it to a bowl game this year.”