During a Monday practice at 26th and Moore streets in South Philadelphia, the Ss Neumann-Goretti High School Saints football team prepped for an upcoming game against Chester High. Throughout the drills, there was one player that stood out with both his voice and his size: 6-foot-6 wide receiver Jamal Custis, who was yelling and cheering his teammates on throughout the practice.
Custis, a 2014 receiver, has already verbally committed to play football at Syracuse University. However, the senior is also a successful basketball player, playing the role of big man for a Saints squad that has been dominant in the Philadelphia Catholic League.
For a long time now, Custis has had to juggle the life of a student-athlete with much more responsibility because of his two-sport athlete status.
“It’s actually helped me,” Custis said. “My coaches, they’ve helped me manage everything. It’s not easy, I wouldn’t tell anybody playing two sports is easy, especially with being a student-athlete. But I’ve been doing it all of my life, it becomes easier but the thought of doing it in college, it might be a little harder. It is kind of stressful during the school year when you have to do work, then come and play football, then go back to school and then do basketball. It’s stressful but thankfully, I’ve managed to make it work.”
The trials of being a two-sport athlete has made him one of the leaders of the Saints team. Head coach C.J. Szydlik, after having seen Custis play for a number of years, has seen the transformation happen before his eyes.
“During camp, where we had a couple bad practices in a row, we had a team meeting inside and, as I got done, he asked to speak,” Szydlik said. “He spoke to the team and, at that point, I was just like ‘wow, this kid is something special’. It was all on his own, he wants to win but he also wants to be a great teammate. He does things the right way.”
Carl Arrigale, the Saints’ basketball coach and Custis’ other coach, has seen those same leadership skills come out of his forward.
“Jamal has matured over the years,” Arrigale said. “He’s loud, very active and is a big part of this team.”
While Custis has accepted a football scholarship, the senior has the potential, and apparently Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim’s blessing, to be on the basketball team as a walk-on.
“I do feel like I can,” Custis said. “The basketball coach (Boeheim) gave me the option if I wanted to play. A lot of people are telling me it is going to be hard, but I’m willing and up to the challenge. He did tell me I could play both.”