Isheem Young charged: Penn State recruit goes from star player to alleged robber

Imhotep’s Isheem Young holds the championship trophy and the MVP plate after the Panthers won the Public League Class 4A football title on Nov. 11.

The Imhotep Charter high school football players spent Saturday celebrating their big playoff victory Friday and looking ahead to the state championship game Thursday in Hershey.

Isheem Young, the Panthers’ star player and a Penn State recruit, was focused on bail money instead.

Young, 18, missed the emotional 34-14 win over Bethlehem Catholic High School on Friday night because he was awaiting arraignment on counts of aggravated assault, robbery, firearms violations, criminal conspiracy, and related offenses.  Eventually, bail was set at $150,000. A police spokeswoman said Saturday that she did not know whether bail had been made.

What is known is that Philadelphia police arrested Young around 1:40 a.m. Friday — about 17 hours before the Panthers’ 7 p.m. kickoff — at his apartment in the 1600 block of Mount Vernon Street.

A police report alleges that Young, armed with a black revolver, robbed the Wawa at 1602 Christopher Columbus Blvd. on July 30 and took $13,600 cash in one- and five-dollar bills from the store’s safe. Neither the gun nor the cash has been recovered, police said.

Wawa representatives did not respond to a request for comment. Penn State’s policy is to not comment on recruited players who committed to the university but not signed a letter of intent. But 247Sports.com, which follows Penn State football closely, on Saturday removed the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Young from Penn State’s commitment list for the class of 2018. Young could have signed a letter of intent  Dec. 20.

Some of those who know Young are shocked and shaken, but they said they plan to rally around him.

Shortly before the  playoff game Friday, after the news of the arrest became widely known, Nick Lincoln, Imhotep’s first-year head coach, gathered some of the team’s leaders to talk about Young and how they had to play the big game without their dynamic leader.

“I didn’t get it,” Lincoln said of his first reaction to the news. “I can’t explain it. But I still have Isheem’s back. We’re going to be there for him.”

“I’m still trying to figure it out,” said Albie Crosby, who coached Young as a sophomore and junior before moving on to coach at Neumann-Goretti High School.  “This is somebody that I’ve grown very close to in recent years.”

Deandre Scott is a former star at Imhotep who just finished his college football career at Maine. He knows Young from their association with the local Pop Warner youth football team.

“I couldn’t believe it, actually,” Scott said. “He had too much going on for himself. But at the same time, I don’t want people to think that he’s a bad guy or a negative person. This isn’t even him. I know there has got to be something behind this because that’s not him. He wouldn’t just up and do dumb stuff like that. He didn’t need to. He was set.

“I feel like that’s not even him.”

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Isheem Young announces his commitment to Penn State in July.

On Twitter, Young’s fans and friends also appeared to rally around him, tweeting prayers. A GoFundMe page called “Justice for Isheem Young” was trending Saturday afternoon. It was tweeted out by Iverson Clement, a star football player at Rancocas Valley High School who also tweeted “Free sheem he’s not another statistic.” The GoFundMe page appeared to be taken down later Saturday.

Harrisburg High School star Micah Parsons tweeted,  “All them fans that’s bashing Isheem is ruthless! You don’t know his story! But y’all were on sheem wave when he was committed.”

Crosby said he was not surprised by the response.

“He has a huge support system in the city of Philadelphia, and people love him,” he said of Young.

Brothers identified

According to the police report, it was five minutes past noon on July 30 when Young entered the Wawa wearing a sweatshirt that said “Battle” on it. He walked into the Wawa office — where his older brother, an assistant store manager, was working with another unidentified employee.

Young allegedly pointed a revolver at the worker, made the two of them lie on the floor, and demanded money. His brother, Quasir Wingate, opened the safe and handed Young $13,600 in one- and five-dollar bills.

Young then walked out of the store. Surveillance footage shows him exiting with his sweatshirt pocket bulging, stuffed with what the police allege was the cash. He then ran to the street, around a corner, and jumped into the gold Buick sedan that had dropped him off. It sped away onto I-95 south, surveillance video showed.

On Thursday, a police officer saw a Buick matching the one from surveillance videos of that night parked on a street in Germantown. As it was being towed to a police lot, its owner, Rafi Johnson, approached the police and was then questioned.

Johnson allegedly told police that Wingate arranged the robbery and identified the brothers in the surveillance footage. The alleged getaway driver, Johnson said he has known Young for years.

Police found text messages on Johnson’s cell phone to a contact labeled “Sheem” about an hour and a half after the robbery.

“Dats [sic] a good jawn bro,” Johnson wrote

“Looked out for your brody,” “Sheem” replied, using a slang variation of “bro.”

Police went to Young’s home at 1:40 a.m.  Friday, where they found both Wingate and Young, who possessed the same “Battle” sweatshirt as seen in the surveillance video. They were both taken into custody. Authorities said Young admitted to committing the robbery. Wingate did not make a statement to police.

Court records showed Wingate and Johnson, both 21, were each being held on $100,000 bail.

Stellar player

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Isheem Young fights off Northeast High’s Cole Greenjack (left) in a game in September.

As talented as he was on the football field, Young was equally savvy on social media. He announced his commitment to  Penn State in July through a video posted on Twitter. In it, he walks into a pool party with a group of friends, where dozens of teens are dancing and diving, music video-style.

Young, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Beyond Blessed,” watches friends jump into the pool. Then he gets up, strips off his shirt, mounts the diving board and jumps in. The Penn State logo, computer-generated, appears over the pool as he lands. All his friends splash into the pool and begin celebrating.

Young also is seen in many photos smiling and gesturing on the field. He is shown grinning widely as he holds the most valuable player plaque from last month’s Public League championship game — he scored two touchdowns — and later with his hands outstretched after a touchdown as if to say, “This is too easy.”

As a 15-year-old, Young’s story went national after he scored four touchdowns, gained 158 yards, and led the Northwest Raiders to their first Pop Warner National Super Bowl title.

Young was a four-year starter for Imhotep. He honed his skills while playing youth football for the Cecil B. Moore Stingrays and Northwest Raiders. Crosby watched him play as an eighth grader and said he was impressed with Young’s quickness and ball-hawking abilities.

Plus, “the kid has a personality that lights up the room,” Crosby said.

Camera icon LOU RABITO / Staff
Isheem Young throws up his hands and celebrates with offensive lineman Marlon Westcott after scoring on a 47-yard run against Bartram in the Public League Class 4A football final on Nov. 11.

As a sophomore in 2015, Young scored two touchdowns and helped Imhotep claim its first state championship with a 40-3 thrashing of Erie Cathedral Prep. This year, he was ranked the No. 6 recruit in the state and No. 170 in the country by ESPN. He was on everyone’s preseason all-star team and starred in practically every game this season. He was known as a fearless all-around player, one who could dominate a game with the ball in his hands or weaken an opponent with hard hits that energized his teammates.

Last month, Imhotep freshman defensive back Shafeek Smith said Young and teammate Tykee Smith were inspirations to him.

“Seeing [Young and Smith] just motivates me to go harder, be at the top, and be the best in the country,” Shafeek Smith said.

‘He had the answers’

On Friday night, Tykee Smith scored five touchdowns to propel Imhotep to the  state championship game Thursday against undefeated Erie Cathedral Prep. The Panthers will try to gain payback for last year’s crushing 27-20 loss to Erie Cathedral in the title game.

Young, their spark plug, will not be there.

“It’s what the kids have been gearing up for all season,” Lincoln said of the big game. “It’s like the third round of a heavyweight battle.”

While the game  is  played,  Deandre Scott may still be trying to understand  how it came to this.

“That’s not Sheem-Sheem,” Scott said. “I know this was a mistake he probably regrets doing. But at the same time, there’s probably a lot that people probably don’t know.

“I feel like there’s something behind this that people don’t know because he had the answers. He had all the keys. There was no reason for him to do what he did. I feel like there’s another story going on that people don’t know about.”