BRADENTON — Zak Boggs sat in a chair dressed in his blue soccer uniform — one cleat in his lap, the other on his left foot — as his Bradenton Academics teammates headed toward the IMG Academy soccer fields.
Boggs, a rising senior and forward for South Florida, and his soccer mates stopped playing competitive soccer when their college seasons ended in the fall.
Five months is a long time not to work on your craft at an elite level. It’s a long time not to feel the sting in your chest from the heavy breathing after a good practice. It’s a long time not to feel the jolts that vibrate through your body from being leveled to the turf while charging for a loose ball.
It’s a long time not to play soccer. That’s why the members of the Academics didn’t hesitate to hone their skills this summer at IMG.
“This is the focal point, because the competition is so much better,” said Boggs, who was named this year’s Big East Conference Male Scholar Athlete of the Year. “This helps to get you fit. And you are not rusty when you head back to college.”
The Academics, who compete in the Premier Development League, are one of close to 70 teams around the country competing in the United Soccer Leagues. The league is for college-aged players, but professionals also play in the PDL. It provides a professional atmosphere for collegiate players during the summer months, while still maintaining their amateur status in preparation for college soccer and beyond.
“This is a viable, competitive league,” said Academics coach Tom Durkin, who has been at the helm for 10 seasons and is four wins shy off 100. “It’s attached to the professional league. It’s the foundation of the league. If it wasn’t this league to play in, any player short of the age of 19 would have no place to play. It provides an excellent opportunity.”
The PDL doesn’t have a preseason, so there are a few challenges the players must conquer when the league opens in May. The players say they work out in the weight room at the end of their collegiate season, but they aren’t in soccer-playing condition when the Premier Development League kicks off, so the task is to whip themselves into shape as fast as possible. For the players, dealing with Florida’s scorching summer temperature is excruciating.
“It’s tough the first couple of games,” said Hunter Dorton, a former student at IMG Academy who plays collegiately at the University of Akron. “The hot sun is tough. I grew up here, but in Ohio, it’s cold nine months out of the year, and we only have a week off and then come here, and I had a hard time breathing after our first practice, but it helps tremendously when you go back to school. You are in perfect shape.”
The Academics have adjusted well to their obstacles this season, boasting a 6-1-2, which is good for first place in the Southeast Division.