By Michael McAllister
One of the most explosive and exciting receivers/kick returners Syracuse has ever had was Qadry Ismail. Known as "the missile," Ismail went on to play for 10 seasons in the NFL. Over those 10 seasons, he won a Super Bowl, and had two seasons of over 1,000 receiving yards. Ismail was an All-American as a kick returner in 1991, 1993 Japan Bowl All-Star Game MVP, and All-Big East 1st Team as a wide receiver in 1992. We spoke with the former Orange great about his life now, his Syracuse days, and the landscape of college football. Nation of Orange:
Tell us what you’re up to now, what you’re involved in, and what keeps you busy? Qadry Ismail:
There’s plan A of my life. And that was to play as long as I possibly could play with my body to the best of its ability. In 2002 I had a C3/C4 neck contusion. So I had to hang up the cleats and go on to plan B. Plan B, I got a degree in speech communication and I felt I needed to put that to work. With that, I started working with BET and doing all kinds of black college football games. So I worked in the booth on that. Then I would do a post-game show on ComCast SportsNet. That kind of morphed into a full-time thing where I worked with ESPN for about six years doing just about everything on that network and networks. Radio, television, different shows. I had my own main show “The Blitz” which was on every Sunday. A four hour show that we would do with a guy by the name of Mike Hill. So I did that for six years. Then I got an opportunity to come back to Baltimore where I won my Super Bowl championship. The Ravens have five shows that they produce for their “Rave TV.” Part of their content, they have shows called “One Winning Drive,” “Purple Passion,” and “Ravens Report.” I hosted Ravens Report for a time being. I did a part of Purple Passion, which is a panelist show where we kind of talk different topics and get at it with different football topics. Then for One Winning Drive, they do a lot of behind the bench mic-ing up different guys. You get into the flow of the game, and I get to a chance to do some x’s and o’s and breakdown different game winning drive that they might have. Or key moments of the game and why they happened. Also, I do the Ravens game day broadcast. I travel with the team and do all of their games, the preseason as well as during the season. The last four years they’ve been able to make the postseason so I’ve been able to do some postseason games as well. I have some radio shows I do during the week. I have a show on Monday night called “Monday Night Live.” I also co-host a show called “Sports Line.” So radio, television, and media work for the Baltimore regional market. Nation of Orange:
You’re involved with something called “Missile Training.” Explain what that is all about. Qadry Ismail:
I wanted to help out the next generation of athletes, which is my passion. With that I started up what is called “Missile Training.” Obviously being at Syracuse and even at high school and into the pros I was known for my speed. Obviously, my nickname was "the missile." What I’ve done is use what I’ve learned over the course of years, going on over a decade and a half of information. Taking that vast information and putting it to Missile Training. One of the things I realized when I was at my best, my body was at its most open. It functioned and felt great, and there was no restriction. So I try to train my athletes that way by doing a lot of eccentric movement. At the same time, from a restriction standpoint, I also work with a couple of different doctors across the country. In particular here in the Maryland area, a doctor who works for the Elite Spine & Wellness center. He is very good with soft tissue rehabilitation and spinal care, and helping the nervous system to maximize its performance. That has been really, really cool. I know it works because there's a kid who came in and couldn't even touch his toes. Now, after a month in my program, can touch his toes with no problem. He couldn't go past his knees before. His 40 time improved from 5.5 to 4.9. So it's something that really works.
Also, I wanted to mention something else I’ve been involved with. Daryl Johnston and Don McPherson, we got together and along with a gentleman by the name of Grant Hendrix Jr and his company, we’ve got together and have our own synthetic turf company. It’s called G9. We actually have a synthetic field either at Manley Field House or one of the athletic fields. So we have one of our synthetic fields up at Syracuse now. And we are a growing company. This is a really cool industry to get into. We’ve had a lot of fun putting out a very high quality product. Nation of Orange:
Go back to when you were being recruited. Describe the recruiting process, and why you ultimately chose Syracuse? Qadry Ismail:
I don’t know what the NCAA rules are now, but you had five official visits then. Kids will ask me, “how’d you go to college.” And I tell them I had a full athletic scholarship. I remember vividly, coach Dick MacPherson he had his football camp. Me and my brother Rocket were up at football camp. I think Randy Edsall was recruiting us on the outside. He didn’t go full at it, but apparently we were on his radar. I remember we were up there and testing out on the 40. It was Ivan Fears and Randy Edsall timing the 40. I remember my brother goes through and he goes through at like a 4.4. They both kind of looked at each other like, “nah nah, this can’t be,” for a 4.40 or something crazy. He was a sophomore. Then I fly through at like 4.5 or something. They’re like “wow those are good times, these guys are fast.” Then we come up the next year. Next thing you know, “hey coach MacPherson wants to talk to you guys.” So we’re like “oh ok, what did we do?” So we go in there and sit down in his office. Coach Mac in his form and way of talking and grandeur, talking about how he wanted us come to Syracuse and he wanted to offer us scholarships. I’m looking at my brother and he’s looking at me like, “oh ok, that’s good.” He kind of looked over at Randy in the room and says, “Randy! What the hell is going on? You offer guys a full scholarship and they sit there and look at you and they don’t even say anything! Aren’t you happy? You’re coming to Syracuse!” Then we’re like “oh! You’re officially offering us.” We were thinking he was saying he was glad we were here at the camp. We didn’t fully understand that we were going to have an opportunity to play for Syracuse and have our education paid for. That was my first experience with it all.
But then I remember going into my junior year of track. We just won the state title. I won three gold medals and a silver. I remember the one coach was there, his son Ron Dickerson Jr, was doing the long jump. He was in triple A, my brother and I were in double A. We’re walking off the track, and he comes over to me and says, “I didn’t know you were that fast! That was really impressive! I’m going to have to tell Joe about you.” I was like “oh ok coach.” I don’t know what happened from then on, but it seemed like every coach on the east coast wanted to recruit me and my brother. It was on. It was letter after letter, a who’s who list of every school in the books. You name it they recruiting us.
Now it’s down to five visits. Of course being in Pennsylvania, and I mean I liked them but it was kind of weird. But yeah I went to take my recruiting trip to Penn State. Took my trip down to Maryland. Then I took my trip, obviously, but we were up there so many times watching Syracuse basketball games. Actually, I saw some really cool Georgetown/Syracuse battles with Rony Seikaly, Derrick Coleman and all them. Ah man it was just epic battles going back and forth, Patrick Ewing and all them. So I took my official visit up there. Then I went to North Carolina State and Tennessee. My recruiting coordinator at Tennessee was John Gruden. He was just a G.A. or whatever. He was taking me around Tennessee. Now I’m looking at John and having all of the successes he’s had over his years.
But I was going to every campus and doing everything. An offensive lineman who went to Michigan was recruited out of my area by everybody, I asked him “how did you know you wanted to go Michigan? You could have gone anywhere.” He was like, “for me it was when I got on that campus I knew the campus was for me. I knew this was the place I wanted to spend the next four or five years of my career.” And every time I was on Syracuse’s campus I felt comfortable. I knew that this was a program on the rise. Look at Don McPherson and the way they finished out the season. I was at the Penn State game, and my brother and I couldn’t even hear it was so loud. You know, he threw the play-pass, the big post down the field to Rob Moore. The way the West Virginia game ended with the two point-conversion where he pitched it out to Michael Owens who ran into the endzone. All that, it was such a great time. To see Pat “Tie” Dye who tied the Sugar Bowl. But clearly we beat them. I just felt like, “yo this is it.” Even right now I’m getting goose bumps because it’s flashing me back to that high school kid saying, “I’m going to be an Orangeman” And I’m proud to be an Orangeman. Penn State was a great visit, but there was nothing like it and I wanted to be an Orangeman. That’s why I chose going to Syracuse. Nation of Orange:
What were some of your best memories from your four years at Syracuse? Qadry Ismail:
Man! I think one of my memories was my strength and conditioning coach at the time. He was so, so hard on me. But he taught me so, so much. I remember when I came in as one of the weakest freshmen. I came in with this storied high school career, but I was like, “man I suck.” After he worked with me, I remember the first time I ran a 4.3 40. We did overspeed training. I ran a 3.4 or 3.3 second 40 meters, so that’s longer than the 40 yard dash. He said, “how’d you feel?” And I said I felt effortless like I was flying. He said, “now that’s running.” I just remember breaking the 4.3 barrier.
Another memory was when my first touchdown, because I had so much adversity going through life and trying to make your way on the field and prove yourself as a player. I remember sitting there against Vanderbilt. The year before I broke my finger, I had to go through the surgery and all that, kind of being demoted and unsure of where I was as a receiver. We were playing Vanderbilt at home. I was like, I can’t wait for my first catch I’m just going to smother the ball, run, and take it to the next level. 228 Special was the call. I think it was like 3rd and 5 or 3rd and 7. I didn’t realize I picked up 15 yards. It just felt so good to run. I felt like I ran 70 yards it just felt so awesome. I remember going to the sideline thinking I was coming out, and sure enough coach is like “nah you stay in!” So I was like OK. So someone else went out of the game. I hear “alright Qadry this is yours.” They called a reverse. It was a fake pitch and they would pitch me the ball. Sure enough I stay in, boom, they do the reverse, and I remember coming around thinking I was going to score. I was wide-eyed, and I remember scoring.
I remember having games against Texas where Keith Jackson called one of my big plays that I had to set up the victory against Texas. I remember going down to Florida State. Although that was a loss, it was a top 5 team in the nation. But I remember having a tremendous, tremendous game against them. And I knew if I could have a good game against them I could play against anyone.
It was moments like that, and other moments like getting an All-American from a track and field standpoint. My teammates on the track and field level, hanging out with them, growing as a well rounded person. You learn so much going on the road as a track and field athlete. Hanging out with my coach Andy Roberts, growing as a young man and feeling those times out as just wonderful experiences. Learning the art of running. Going to class when it’s like “minus, negative below.” Going across the quad and getting to Hendricks Chapel or sitting there like, “if I can only make it to Shine!” I can’t wait until this bus to come, hoping you get there in time so it doesn’t take off on you. Eating at Kimmel, or hanging out at Goldstein on south campus. Those are the memories I’ve had and I really, really enjoyed it. Nation of Orange:
What was it like to win a Super Bowl? Qadry Ismail:
Whew man, it’s an amazing feeling. I think the further away I get the more I remember as a little boy about it. It is everything you see when you’re watching it on TV. Then when you’re finally in the game, we celebrated the 10th anniversary two years ago. Seeing all my teammates and it’s like, “wow we did something special.” Ten years ago that’s crazy. You see the guys and the highlight tapes and all the different things we did to get through that. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done as well. It was just…..wow! You dream your whole life of playing in a Super Bowl. Then at the same time for me to be in it and win it, it was one of those dreams come true. Nation of Orange:
You have a Super Bowl, but your brother has a collegiate national championship. Which is the better accomplishment? Qadry Ismail:
He also has a CFL championship. So I guess in the Ismail house we have a NCAA, Grey Cup, and a Lombardi. Probably the most prestigious is the Lombardi as far as what people would look at. The ultimate team one would have to be the NCAA one. Because you’re competing against so many teams and so many things have to go right for that year. Even on the pro level things have to go right, but it’s only 32 teams and it’s the best of the best. I would probably, for me, say the most prestigious would be the Lombardi, but the ultimate team one. There’s something about it when you’re not being paid for it and you meet that common goal. Notre Dame met that common goal and beat West Virginia to win their national championship. That’s something that’s part of that history and part of that legend. Nation of Orange:
What was your reaction when Coach P was fired? Qadry Ismail:
I was very, very disappointed and just in shock. I know that you bring in a new athletic director he wants to bring in his own people. There was a dry period there in Coach P’s last few years. But he sustained excellence; he sustained winning. I think that if anything, it might’ve been a scenario where you say, “look we might need to do some things to continue to push the program forward.” But I’ve said this privately and I’ve said this publicly. My two and a half years before Coach P were some very difficult years. I don’t think I fully fit into the flow of what Coach Dick MacPherson was about. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. But as a player there were things there. As a player in Coach P’s system, the opportunity I had and the way in which he gave me the freedom to do what I needed to do. As militant as he was then, was as much as I was able to get out there and play. I can’t thank him enough. I know that at the same time I was very disappointed when I saw he was let go. But I was even more disappointed in the hiring and how the program moved forward after him. Nation of Orange:
What are your thoughts on the direction of the program, and specifically coach Marrone? Qadry Ismail:
I think Coach Marrone has certainly done a fantastic job on bringing back what it is to be an Orangeman. I like the fact that the weak mindedness of the old regime is gone and the more focused “hey it’s all about what we want to be” and that’s the pride of the Orange. When you look at what Syracuse is, it’s about recruiting the right guy to come there, step outside the box and be special. And I think that he’s going to continue to push that, push it hard, and I’m glad he has the program headed back in that right direction. Certainly you need that guy, that quarterback. You need that explosive defensive person. Whether it be on the defensive line or whatever. I think if you can get that quarterback to play at an extremely high level, I think the skill guys around him will certainly step up. I think he has the program certainly headed in that direction. Nation of Orange:
When you heard Syracuse was moving to the ACC, what was your reaction to that and conference realignment in general? Qadry Ismail:
The first time I saw that, it was an article with Penn State. They had a drawing of a Nittany Lion going across the state of Pennsylvania toward Ohio with a Buckeye, a Michigan Wolverine, an Iowa Hawkeye, and he was packing his bags and moving away from the east. That phase of it was weird. So then we’re going to form the Big East. The Big East formed and we’re going to be playing Miami. Obviously Miami was a power at that time. It brought a lot of credibility at that time to the Big East. Virginia Tech wasn’t what it is now, but certainly had that potential to grow into what it is now. Man this is great. But then here comes Notre Dame. What I thought was going to happen was Notre Dame football was going to come aboard. But it wound up being everything but.
What runs college athletics is packing houses. 50+ thousand in the Dome, and how many umpteen thousands in the stadiums that have been expanded. All the merchandising, all the TV rights, and all the advertising dollars both radio wise, local to regional to national. You obviously know that helps set your budget. So when you look at Notre Dame, they’re like “we want to keep it all.” I think that really started the beginning of the end for the Big East. Now you look at it and it’s like if we could only…..but you couldn’t. So now all of a sudden here comes another conference that had issues and troubles. Boston College leaves, Virginia Tech leaves, and Miami leaves. Syracuse was almost in that mix too. Now all of a sudden Syracuse is in that mix, and Pittsburgh leaves too. Conference USA had to move. Then the Big-12 had issues around TV deals and TV money. That’s where everyone wanted to generate their own revenue. I think that’s where people are at. Everyone is jumping on the “we want to generate our own revenue” bandwagon. I think Syracuse, once the dust kind of settled, we had no choice but to put ourselves in position to stay equitable and competitive. I think that it’s the player side and the tradition side. But it’s like all we know is we have to pay these bills and talk about the business side. I think the business side has won out over all the other tradition and good feelings and good vibes about what college football is about. It’s not. It’s about the almighty dollar and making sure everything is right on that perspective. Nation of Orange:
Did you prefer the college game or the pro game as far as pure enjoyment of playing? Qadry Ismail:
I would probably say college because I remember Dwayne Joseph. He played cornerback. He’s now with the Miami Dolphins as one of their head scouts. I remember I was sitting there and we were talking about how we needed to come back up to school for summer workouts. He was like, “how are you doing?” It was my first communication. And that little communication started off a tremendous friendship that when we were on the field there was an accountability that we had with one another that I don’t think I fully got at the professional level like I got in the collegiate level. The wins over Texas and all our Big East opponents meant more in that time than it did in the pros. Nation of Orange:
Will Syracuse get back to where it was when you were there, and McNabb was there, and they were a consistent top 25 national contender. Qadry Ismail:
Right. Yeah it was like, that’s all we did was go to bowl games and beat people. I think we need a quarterback that can light it up. Period. I think that’s where this is coming. There’s no mistaking it. At the same time I do look at it this way. We most certainly can because I believe the direction Doug has the team going is a positive one and a good one. I think with the ACC it’s going to open up doors as far as recruiting is concerned. I think that’s where, now that the identity is set, we’re going to be living large and taking it to the next level. With the way the ACC is set up, I think we’re going to get into some households and really open up some things. Follow Nation of Orange on twitter Like Nation of Orange on Facebook