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ASA rich in new talent

ASA coach Dennis Orlando has compiled an impressive array of talent, from the 23 local players to the several others from Florida and New Jersey.

Damir Djukanovic had a certain set of expectations when he arrived for his first workout with his ASA College football team. An impressive assemblage of athletes representing such established football states as New Jersey, Alabama and Florida weren’t one of them.

“You hear the different accents,” the former Bayside quarterback recalled. “You’re like, ‘Where are they from?’”

For a start-from-scratch program, ASA, located in downtown Brooklyn, is littered with a surprising amount of talent and depth. It’s a nod to the recruiting effort led by coach Dennis Orlando and his staff.

The first-year coach, who most recently was at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa., was hired last July. Since, he has put together an experienced staff, bringing in a eight assistants, including offensive coordinator Chris Boden, the former quarterbacks coach at Fordham who owns several offensive records at Villanova.

Orlando, a 33-year-old Collingswood, N.J., product, who played linebacker for Central Michigan, is relying on several high-profile, out-of-state players for the NJCAA Division I team’s first season, which will be as an independent. Next year, they will join the Northeast Conference, with locals such as Nassau Community College and Hudson Valley Community College.

They include offensive tackle Daron Rose, who started 11 games at Florida State in 2007 before he was one of several players suspended for an academic scandal. He has since committed to South Florida after spending the last year in junior college following his issues at FSU.

Andre Kates, considered one of the top defensive backs in the nation, was advised to join Orlando by a Division I coach he was close with. He has verbally committed to Indiana. Offensive tackle Rahjon Jones of Newark, N.J., and tight end Kevenski McGee of Pakokee, Fla., didn’t qualify at South Florida, but have committed, either verbally or by signing a National Letter of Intent. Quarterback Travis Eakin, of Toney, Ala., had academic issues, at Madison Academy, and opted to come to Brooklyn, out of the relationship he shared with Boden.

“These kids are attracting colleges to our team,” Orlando said. “That’s the concept of the whole thing. It brings attention to city kids.”

For instance, Minnesota and South Florida, schools that don’t usually recruit New York City, found themselves in Brooklyn, at Old Boys High Field for practice this spring.

“It helps everybody,” Djukanovic said. “All you need is one scout to see you.”

Djukanovic was in high spirits after a recent scrimmage at Old Boys High Field in East New York, Brooklyn, despite the likelihood he will serve as Eakin’s backup. He praised Orlando, his new coach, and the assistant coaches that seem to have a wealth of knowledge. The program has a professional touch, he said.

There is no walking around in practice. When one of the quarterbacks was found talking when he was supposed to be listening, Orlando threw him into a contact drill. Everybody, he said, for the most part is looking to play big-time college football.

“Get better is the message,” Djukanovic said. “He doesn’t put anybody on a higher level, but if you’re better you’re going to play.”

The roster is 69 deep, including players from Maryland, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Georgia, but also a large portion %u2013 23 players %u2013 from the five boroughs. In time, Orlando would like to see that number increase.

“Our foundation, in the long run, has to be New York City kids,” he said.

For that to happen, he must gain the local high-school coaches’ trust, which will go hand in hand with the success of the program, from wins and losses to sending players to four-year colleges.

Orlando knows how to do that. At Valley Forge, where he learned under longtime coach Jim Burner, he ran the prep program two years and the junior college team for one. He had players such as Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Despite his pedigree, he was intrigued by the position at ASA. The location, Orlando said, holds a national lure, located in the media Mecca of the world. While it will never be confused for a football hotbed, Orlando felt there was plenty of talent and no outlet for kids who didn’t make the grade. The only other junior college in the city with a football program is Globe Institute, where he served as the defensive coordinator for a year before coming to ASA.

“There’s a big need for it in this part of the country,” Orlando said.

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