By Peter Schwartz
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When you think about college football in our area, the first school that comes to mind is Rutgers, with some bowl victories over the years and their move to the Big Ten. Also, FCS teams like Stony Brook and Fordham have enjoyed some success.
But in recent years, another local school has flown under the radar in building a quality football program.
ASA College in Brooklyn began its football program in 2009 and it has blossomed into a terrific junior college squad and a recruiting destination for major colleges to find players.
“We are extremely proud of our football program,” said Ken Wilcox, athletic director at ASA. “The coaches have done a tremendous job getting kids placed at high-level colleges around the country.”
Offensive guard Leon Brown, who played to Alabama and recently signed with the Baltimore Ravens, is among the Avengers players who have graduated from ASA and gone on to major colleges. Also, defensive end Desmond Hollin joined Florida State in 2012. All in all, 33 players from ASA have signed with FBS programs, including four players that went to SEC schools and four players that went to the ACC.
Here is a complete list of ASA alumni that moved onto FBS schools.
In addition, former ASA offensive tackle Vincent Brown recently went to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ free-agent camp, while 2012 ASA graduate Isiah Ferguson signed with the St. Louis Rams. The wide receiver went to Arkansas-Pine Bluff after graduating from ASA.
A big part of the success at ASA is new head coach Chris Boden, who has been with the program since its inception and spent the first six seasons as offensive coordinator. He takes over a team that went 9-1 in 2013 and 6-2 in 2014.
“I’m extremely excited, and very thankful for the opportunity,” said Boden, a former star quarterback at Villanova. “I truly feel blessed for the opportunity to lead this program into the future. The goal of the program will continue to be to win the national championship at the NJCAA level.”
When it comes to recruiting, ASA looks for players that not only want to be great and play at the highest level, but are also interested in an education. They stress to their players that everything starts with academics. Having a full-time coach gives the student-athletes the attention they need so that they can develop as players.
The college also provides a hands-on tutoring center and a student advisement department. The players understand that they have to be successful on the field and in the classroom.
“Athletics can be taken away tomorrow, but no one can ever take away your education,” said Boden, a native of San Clemente, California who planted roots in our area after spending some time with the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League.
After his playing days were over, Boden became a coach in the AFL and then joined Fordham University as its quarterbacks coach. He then joined ASA and helped get the program off the ground, working under head coach Dennis Orlando.
The school feels fortunate to have such an easy transition to Boden as the head coach.
“Chris has been one of the pillars of our entire athletic department as we built this program from scratch,” said Wilcox. “He is an extremely talented and intelligent coach who we feel will bring the program to even higher heights.”
Those heights will continue to include a collective effort to be the best in recruiting. The coaching staff has plenty of time to focus on that part of the job because coaching is their full-time occupation. They don’t teach at the school and they don’t have to work any other jobs.
“We get to spend a lot of time with our student-athletes, said Boden. “Working with them on the field, watching film and doing study halls to make sure they are on top of their academics. The goals the coaching staff has are simple: recruit, teach and motivate.”
Once a player commits to ASA, the objective is to help the Avengers win, but also to catch the eyes of FBS schools. Over the last four months, 32 NCAA schools — including 30 at the Division 1 level — have visited ASA on recruiting trips.
Some pretty big names have made their way to Brooklyn to look for talent.
“We believe in the city,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban told asacollegeavengers.com back in 2012. “I think it’s great that ASA started a program here and in four years they’re one of the top programs in the country. They’re creating a lot of opportunity for a lot of young folks, which is why we all do this coaching thing.”
Saban is just one of many top-level coaches to check out what’s happening at ASA.
“It is an honor to have the likes of Nick Saban, Dana Holgason, Al Golden, Dennis Erickson, Mario Cristobal and Dave Clawson come in and spend time with our players and coaches,” said Boden. “That is great exposure for our kids, the coaches and, more importantly, ASA College overall. In terms of the exposure, it means that we are doing something right.”
In addition to finding outstanding players, ASA has apparently found an outstanding place to practice and play its home games.
After making the long ride out east to Stony Brook on Long Island to play home games in 2013 and also playing home games this past season at Old Boys High in Brooklyn, the Avengers are set to enjoy a brand new home. They are currently finalizing a deal to play at MCU Park in Coney Island, the home of the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones.
“This will help us recruiting and help the stability of the varsity and junior varsity football programs,” said Wilcox.
Brooklyn is becoming quite the place to be for quality sports. The Nets moved to Brooklyn three years ago and will be joined by the Islanders this coming season. Baseball returned to Brooklyn in 2000 with the Cyclones, and there’s also LIU-Brooklyn basketball.
And now there’s some good football to watch with the ASA Avengers. In just a short amount of time, Wilcox, Boden and the rest of the staff have built one of the top JUCO programs in the country.
It’s worth a trip out to MCU Park to catch the team in person. You might just see a few players that will move on to major programs in the near future.