The ball has been placed at the line of scrimmage for the start of the Sussex County Community College football program, now it’s up to the area’s players and coaches to help move it forward.
When the college’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved the addition of New Jersey’s first junior college football program last week, area high school coaches began to see new opportunities open up for their athletes to play at the next level.
“Everyone is on this football bandwagon about numbers being down and the county college is taking a step to go start a football program, which I think is great by them,” Wallkill Valley head football coach Bob Leach said. “I think it’s neat that an institution has football, especially at the college level, that’s awesome. I think it’s something that these local kids are going to have to really look at and think about. It’s definitely going to affect recruiting in the county.”
In the past few years, Leach and Rangers assistant coach Todd Poltersdorf, who has coached under Leach for the past six seasons between Sussex Tech and Wallkill Valley, began discussing how they felt SCCC pursuing the addition of a football team could be a good idea.
Poltersdorf, who has been Sussex County Community College’s director of admissions since 2006, joined forces with Cory Homer, SCCC’s associate dean of institutional effectiveness and marketing, enrollment management and distance learning, to research how the addition of such a program would affect enrollment growth.
Now, Poltersdorf will take the helm as the Skylanders first head coach in 2020.
“The first thing that comes to mind is his fire and passion for the game, his competitive attitude and edge,” Leach said. “A lot of people that don’t know him think he’s a lunatic, but he’s just passionate about it, he gets into it and he goes nuts. I think you have to be that way if you’re going to be a coach, and especially a head coach.
“He probably should have been a head coach in football a long time ago. This will be a good gig for him.”
All seven Sussex County coaches that offered comments on the new SCCC football program agreed that it was a positive move for football in the area.
“It is great to have another level of football so close to us in our area,” Vernon head coach Steve Down said. “I know we have sent a lot of players there and when they heard a football program was starting, they were immediately excited. Any time we can grow the game is a benefit, but right here in our backyard it brings an added excitement to our county.”
During the board meeting on Nov. 27, Poltersdorf cited getting support from Lenape Valley legendary head coach Don Smolyn leading up to the vote.
On Sunday, Smolyn reiterated his excitement for what SCCC’s new team will mean for the local community.
The Patriots head coach, who himself bounced from Seton Hall University to Union County College before earning a scholarship to play on the offensive line at Adams State College, said he wished an opportunity like playing at a junior college in New Jersey existed back when he was playing.
He said playing football for the Skylanders will gives area athletes a chance to mature physically and in their studies while not breaking the bank figuring out their plans at a four-year school.
“It gives some of these kids a chance,” Smolyn said. “An other thing too, I look at myself, it took me a couple of different colleges to figure it out and a lot of money. If I had something like that where I could have gone somewhere and developed and started to figure it out, that would have been a good option for me.
“I just look over the years, maybe you go there for two years and maybe you go to a Montclair or a College of New Jersey if they’re not the Division-I size kids.”
Newton head coach Matt Parzero has seen cases with his team where a player may need a year or two to develop and play at a higher level.
SCCC will now present a chance for some of his players to showcase their skills immediately.
“For football, it gives them an opportunity to compete right away,” Parzero said. “Some of our guys through the years have gone to some big schools and unfortunately sometimes they get lost. If they’re a freshman, they might not see the field until they’re juniors or seniors.
″(At SCCC), it’s all freshmen and sophomores, so they can compete, their rosters aren’t as big so they can get on the field right away. It will improve their exposure to bigger schools down the line.”
The only junior colleges with full-fledged football programs in a 200-mile radius of Newton are ASA Brooklyn (N.Y.), Lackawanna College (Pa.) and Nassau Community College (N.Y.).
Elsewhere in the state, Caldwell University offers sprint football, which is a full-contact varsity sport with the same rules as regular football but all players must weigh 172 pounds or less.
The new Skylanders team will give all area players a chance to continue their football careers in their backyard.
“I just think it’s great for kids that aren’t really sure what they want to do yet to have a place to go, that have had some pretty good high school careers and still have an opportunity to extend that, at least if nothing more, for another two years,” Kittatinny head coach Joe Coltelli said. “After that, who knows? You hear so many stories about junior-college kids that end up in a program and end up being a pretty big part of that program over the years.
“I’m thrilled that it’s going to give some kids another purpose to be there other than going to school and extend their careers a little bit longer.”
Area coaches did mention some challenges that they believe will have to be cleared for the SCCC program to have success.
Parzero mentioned that he heard from some that they would be concerned about how travel would factor into the equation. Smolyn, meanwhile, knows that it will take a while to build a competitive program and everyone must be committed to that construction over the long haul.
But almost all area football coaches agree that the Skylanders program has the chance to be a touchdown for area athletes.
“I want to wish them luck,” Smolyn said. “The road is going to be tough but just persevere. It’s something that’s so badly needed in our area. I think there’s so many kids from out in this area that could play but they really have so few options. With the cost of colleges today, it’s a really viable option.”