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Custard prepared to start over at North Greenville

Posted: February 3, 2011 2:49 p.m.
Updated: February 4, 2011 5:00 a.m.
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L-E’S DARIUS CUSTARD is flanked by his parents, Louise and Joaquin Custard, after signing a football letter-of-intent with North Greenville University. Also, from left, L-E principal Tommy Gladden, L-E assistant football and head basketball coach Derek Belton, L-E head football coach Scott Jones and L-E assistant football coach Darion Hutcherson.

Shortly after Darius Custard signed his national football letter-of-intent with North Greenville University, the Lugoff-Elgin senior’s mother let the cat out of the bag as to her son’s thinking about giving up football as a freshman at the school.

Louise Custard’s revelation gave an insight as to the competitive nature of her son, whom L-E head football coach Scott Jones brought up to the varsity level, in addition to his role as a junior varsity player. In Custard’s mind, though, as long as he was dressing out for the varsity, he might as well have made himself useful and get into the games. Instead, he was told by Jones and the football staff to be patient and that his time would come.

For the young Custard, those were not the words he wanted to hear.

“It was really tough,” Custard said with a smile when asked about his freshman campaign with the varsity team.

“I started playing sports when I was about nine years old and right from the beginning, I was starting in everything that I did. Then, to come to high school where I knew I wasn’t going to be the big dog on campus, but I thought that I’d be getting a little bit of playing time ... Even when we would be winning by 40 or 30 (points), I still wouldn’t be getting in the game. That kind of knocked my confidence, a little bit.

“My mom always preaches about faith and my dad always preaches about faith. That’s a strong movement in our house and that’s what got me through it.”

Sticking with football, and not walking away from the game, paid off with dividends for Custard, who closed out what was, at times, a tedious recruiting process by his signing with the Crusaders on national signing day.

Custard took his official visit to the Tigerville campus last Thursday and came away impressed. By last Friday, he said he was “70 percent sure” that he was ready to commit to Jamey Chadwell’s program. After thinking things over for two more days, Custard called Chadwell and gave him his verbal commitment.

“A couple other schools were looking at me, but as the recruiting process progressed, some of the other schools backed out or went down with their interest. But North Greenville stuck it out,” Custard said of his decision. “When I went up there for my visit, (I saw) it was a good environment and a place where, I thought, I could get the best education along with the best football activity.”

In Custard, the Crusaders are getting an athlete who played on both sides of the football at L-E. As a sophomore, he was in the defensive secondary. By his junior campaign, the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder was seeing more time in the offensive backfield. He had a breakout game against Airport that season, rushing for 143 yards in an overtime loss in which he injured an ankle which prevented him from being at full speed against rival Camden the following week.

The injury hampered Custard throughout a season when he was just starting to become the feature back for the Demons.

“We had high expectations for Darius early in his career, but then, he had some injury problems. He had ankle problems in his junior year and he really didn’t get to play a lot,” Jones said. “He got hurt in the Camden game (in 2009) and had a couple good runs early, but he was really fighting that ankle injury. It was really a testament to him to come back and overcome those things to have a solid year last season.”

It was a healthy Custard who returned to the fold for the 2010 Demons. And, he made up for time lost the previous fall in rushing for a county-best  1,449 yards on 228 carries while running for 14 touchdowns. As a receiver, he led the team with 37 catches for 432 yards and four touchdowns, giving him a county-best 108 points.

Custard got better as the season went on, rushing for no less than 121 yards in each of the last five games for the Region 6-4A champions. His high-water mark came in a 253-yard performance against Sumter in the title-clinching contest.

“He really learned to run the ball tough,” Jones said of the difference in Custard’s game in 2010. “We felt that he became a really good running back for us. He just had some incredible runs, especially later in the season.

“He probably has some of the best highlights in Lugoff-Elgin history. If you go back and look on film, there were a couple runs which were pretty amazing. Many of the great highlights that he had, unfortunately, came in losing causes and people won’t remember those. He had some incredible runs, like the ones he had in the (2009) Airport game. I remember two incredible runs he had against Lexington this past year in a loss. Those were runs a lot of people can’t make.”

Custard also helped the Demons get into overtime against Dutch Fork, scoring on a 72-yard catch and run to even things with 1.2 seconds left in regulation. His versatility could lead to NGU’s coaching staff facing a dilemma as to where to play Custard.

“I’m going in as a running back, but I’ll also be playing some slot (receiver.) But my main position will be running back,” he said. “They run, sort of, like an Oregon offense. It’s an option, based off the shotgun set.”

“All the experts tell me that he’s going to be a slot receiver and, I can see that,” Jones said when asked what could be Custard’s college position. “I feel like he has good hands, but he’s not bad in the backfield either.

“North Greenville’s going to have a tough decision to make on what to do with him. I wouldn’t put it past them to put him back in the backfield to get his hands on the ball because in today’s spread offense, it’s not an unusual thing to do to get him the ball that way. Darius is pretty good in open space. He can make some things happen. He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he can make you miss. They’re really going to enjoy having him up there.”

In addition to possibly having to learn more than one position in college, Custard said he is preparing himself for the rigors of the game which come at the next level.

“I’ve heard it’s probably going to be the pace. In high school, you can jog around and do stuff that you can’t do in college. In college, everybody is working because everybody wants that starting spot,” he said of the biggest difference between high school and college football.  “College is a dog-eat-dog game. It’s survival of the fittest and whoever comes hardest will play.”

Custard plans to major in education, with an eye on becoming a teacher and coach after graduation. Since he will not be playing basketball at NGU, which he has played as a varsity player for four seasons at L-E, the demands on his time should not be as great in college. But Custard pointed out, being a full-time football player is like holding down a job, while also attending class.

“It will probably be easier because in high school, I’m basketball and football, all year ‘round. That makes less time for my academics as opposed to college, which will probably be easier because I’ll be playing just football,” he said of his work load. “But at the same time, I’ve heard that football is a full-time job in college so, I’m not sure if it will be a lot different than playing two sports because I’ll be with football year ‘round.”

Fortunately for Custard, Jones said his former player has a strong academic background and good study habits, which will help him at North Greenville.

“Darius is a great young man. He has a solid academic foundation, which is the big thing with him,” Jones said. “He has good grades and he has worked hard in the classroom. We’re going to miss him and we all wish him the very best.”

On Wednesday, Custard was all smiles after his signing. A weight, he said, had been lifted from his shoulders with one fell swoop of the pen.

“It’s a big relief,” he said while flanked by his parents. “If you would ask my parents, they would tell you that dealing with this has been, sort of, a hectic process. There was a lot of frustration and animosity. Finally, we put the pieces together. And, to see this day finally come and to get this stuff all out of the way is a big monkey off my back.”

Having one obstacle removed, another familiar one is being thrown in front of Darius Custard, who will, again, have to get used to be the new, young kid on the team. It’s a role which he knows well and is ready to accept, one more time.

 “I’m going to have to do it all over again,” he said with a grin. “Hopefully, it will all pay off in the end, just like it did this time.”

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