SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It started last season. Ironically on an off day. When the legend, if you will, of Steve Ishmael’s work ethic started to grow. Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer was leaving his office. Most of the team was relaxing, hanging out, spending a day like a typical college student that does not have the responsibility of the student-athlete.
But not Steve Ishmael. As coach Shafer was walking in the Manley Field House parking lot, he spotted Ishmael out of the corner of his eye. Steve was walking towards the practice fields with cleats on and a stack of cones pinned between his arm and his hip.
He was going to run drills by himself. That work ethic fueled a strong freshman season. Ishmael is never satisfied, always trying to get better. He has that in common with another pivotal player on the Orange offense. Someone that happens to be his roommate.
One night, after Steve had put in his extra work outside of practice, he ran into Ervin Philips. Philips mentioned that he needed a workout partner. Someone he could work with to help each other improve in addition to the normal practice schedule.
Philips had noticed Ishmael’s tireless work ethic, and that was something he thought would help his game. So the two agreed to become workout partners, and developed a close friendship throughout the 2014 season as a result.
”He actually was walking home,” Ishmael said. “We met up after that. He just told me, ‘I see you getting that work in, man. I need a partner like that.’ So me and him built that up ever since.”
Steve sometimes jokes around with Erv, asking him to go do some extra work after they’ve already put in two-a-day practices. Philips is always willing, however, but Ishmael gets a kick out of it anyway. That willingness and drive to always become better is why the two have become an inseparable pair.
Not only off the field, where the two are now roommates and close friends, but on the field as well. Philips and Ishmael figure to be two of the main weapons for the Syracuse offense this season.
Last year, both were true freshmen and a bit under the radar. At least as far as opposing defenses go when game planning for the Orange. That will undoubtedly change nearly every week in 2015.
Both Philips and Ishmael will be ready for it, however.
”The defenses, I know they’re probably going to try to bait on my side a little bit more this season,” Ishmael said. “But Erv, he can do multiple things. Run the ball, run great routes, that will give them somebody else to look at.
Even with the hype surrounding Ishmael throughout the spring and fall, he remains humble. He refuses to call himself the number one receiver, despite clearly being that guy. Ishmael just wants to go to work.
”It’s more like a learning process still for me,” he said. “I don’t ever like to blow up a little. I just like to stay down and keep on working.”
Video by Tim Ferguson