Clayton County

LOVEJOY FOOTBALL: Senior standout Zion Custis a picture of humility, resiliency


Lovejoy’s Zion Custis has not allowed an early-career injury or his diminutive stature keep him from being one of Georgia’s top rushers. (PHOTO: Gabriel Stovall)




By Bill Renje


LOVEJOY, Ga. — The buzz started during spring practice his freshman year. There he was, smaller in stature than anybody on the field, but running with aggressive, yet controlled, abandon over and through the Lovejoy varsity defense.

“Who is that?” a couple of us asked.

“That’s Zion. He’s a Custis,” came the answer.

“Oh, that’s (then-all-time Lovejoy leading rusher) Travis’ brother,” we thought.

“No, he’s Travis’ cousin. But he’s Montrell’s brother!”

For the Custis clan, it’s been a family affair at Lovejoy. 

So, as the youngest, the expectations were high for Zion Custis to live up to. But as the Wildcats (6-4, 5-2 in Region 4-AAAAAA ) get ready for the Class AAAAAA state playoffs, and the senior running back prepares for the end of his high school career, nobody could’ve predicted just how far he would exceed those expectations.

Although they just tell part of the story, his stats are eye popping. His 4,321 yards and 49 TDs currently rank him as the all-time leading rusher at Lovejoy — a program that not only includes his cousin Travis, a highly touted Division I recruit, but former NFL running back, Tashard Choice.

Against Drew in Week 6, Zion Custis broke the program’s single-game rushing record with 303 yards. He’s currently chasing his cousin’s single season marks of 1,837 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns. As the playoffs dawn, with Lovejoy traveling to face Grovetown Friday, Zion checks in with 1,757 yards and 27 TDs.

To fully appreciate Zion Custis is to understand the quality and the character of the young man. A coach’s dream, Zion does everything he’s asked to do. He makes good life decisions and choices, including the friends he surrounds himself with, and understands that God has a plan and purpose for his life.

Soft spoken and quiet by nature, he sets an example by giving 100 percent of himself, from the offseason weight room to hot summer workouts to Friday nights under the lights.

But it takes Lovejoy head coach, Edgar Carson to truly summarize what this latest branch of the Custis family tree has meant to Lovejoy football.

“Coming behind his cousins and his brothers, he felt like he had some big shoes to fill,” said Carson. “But he’s done a good job of filling those shoes. He’s been committed to this program for four years. He’s been the heart and soul of this team this year.

“I hate to lose a kid like that, but he’s set an example for the other kids in the program. He doesn’t talk very much, but he leads by example, takes care of business in the weight room. He’s set the bar by doing everything the right way from on the field to doing a good job on his (college) test scores.”

To further understand Zion Custis — that his success his attributed to more than physical talent — is to understand the foundation laid by his parents.

Born in a rough part of Philadelphia, PA, Zion moved to Georgia as a toddler with his parents, whom he credits as his biggest influences, as they wanted to provide a better upbringing for him and his older brother.

“My mom, that woman, is everything to me,” said Custis. “Her mom died when she was 15. And my dad played basketball, but really didn’t have the support. So they decided when they got together, that they were going to support their kids the right way and not just in football.”

On the field, his older brother Montrell, a sophomore defensive back at Ole Miss, set the tone and example to follow.

“Having Montrell as an older brother is big for me,” Custis said. “Just being able to watch him do stuff the right way on and off the field.”

But to fully appreciate Custis as a young man is to understand his humility. When asked what was the biggest feat of his high school career, he didn’t mention setting the single-game rushing record or eclipsing the career rushing mark, nor going over 1,000 yards three seasons in a row.

He didn’t mention running the final seven minutes off the clock to upset Stephenson last year to secure the region two-seed.

He didn’t mention ripping off a 72-yard run to open the second half against Tucker last year. He didn’t say anything about being named pre-season, AAAAAA All-State this year, nor anything about gaining 261 yards on only 10 carries while scoring five touchdowns against Mount Zion earlier in the season.

Because it’s a family affair with the Custis’, what Zion enjoyed the most was getting on the field his freshman year in the same game with his brother Montrell and his cousins Meshael “Shy” Custis and Treyvion Custis. He’s also quick to credit his offensive line for his success, deflecting praise to them.

“I’ve been with Myles (Best), Popeye (Lawrence Terrel) and Solomon (Lightfoot) since my freshmen year,” he said. “Those boys upfront get it done, with (juniors) Will (Rogers), Lorenzo (Robinson) and Benney (Chukwu) too.”

That humility and family focus helped jumpstart a high school career that almost never happened.

In spring practice with the high school team in eighth grade, Custis found himself full of doubts, questioning his size in comparison to how big the high school players looked.

His confidence wasn’t helped when he broke his femur on the first drill which required two screws.

“I knew people were looking at me, thinking ‘He’s supposed to be a Custis. Can he bounce back and handle himself?’ But I trusted the people who believed in me.” Custis said.

We can debate a lot of circumstances in life. But one thing not up for debate is Zion Custis’ ability to bounce back and handle himself. Those are traits that will serve him well, and those around him, throughout the rest of his life, even when football playing days are done.




About Gabriel Stovall

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