Long recruiting process ends happily for Chuma

After doing the research, Andrew Chuma knew that spending a post-graduate school year didn’t guarantee that he would receive a Division I football scholarship.

But after getting just one offer — from Sacred Heart University in  Fairfield — during his senior year at Ridgefield High, Chuma and his dad, Mike, a former walk-on who eventually became a starter at the University of Massachusetts, decided an extra year at Suffield Academy was worth the hefty $53,000 price tag.

“We knew it was a gamble,” said Mike Chuma. “I talked to Dan Curran, a family friend who is the head coach at Merrimack [College] and he said 90% of the time he tells people not to do a post-grad year. That being said, he thought Andrew should do it based on his improvement from junior to senior year at Ridgefield High and all the relationships he had built with college coaches. So we went ahead with Suffield.”

The Division I scholarship that Andrew Chuma longed for actually came before he played his first game at Suffield Academy. Several weeks after impressing at a camp last summer, the 6’3”, 215-pound Chuma got an offer from Lafayette College, where he will play as an outside linebacker next fall. The Leopards compete in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA.

“He could have waited for other offers, but he wanted to strike while the iron was hot,” said Mike Chuma. “He verbally committed to Lafayette in July and then signed in February.”

Andrew Chuma said the decision to play at Suffield helped boost his stock.

“Coach [Kevin] Callahan [the head coach at Ridgefield High] and I and my coach at Suffield (Drew Gamere) really used my PG year to my advantage,” said Chuma. “In other words, we took the relationships, which were already established with coaches in the years previous and just continued to build on them, generating more interest and such. So we really pressed that hard.

“It was definitely easier because now the coaches all already knew me and really liked the fact that I was taking another year to prepare myself and get bigger, faster, and stronger before college. So there was a lot of extra work that went into the actual recruiting process with Coach Callahan and Coach Gamere orchestrating the whole thing. They made the calls, got my name out there, and then I had to perform at the camps and the showcases, which these coaches would be at.”

The happy outcome followed an arduous and frustrating recruiting process that began when Andrew was a junior at Ridgefield High.

“It’s really an eye-opening experience,” said Mike Chuma. “There were probably 20-25 schools that expressed interest in Andrew, but you have to weed out the ones who are serious from those that are not. Some of these schools use their summer camps as revenue generators.”

Andrew attended several camps during the summer between his junior and senior years at Ridgefield High. He then went out and had a stellar senior season in 2013, catching 60 passes as a tight end and making 94 tackles as outside linebacker for the Tigers and earning All-FCIAC and All-State honors.

“Based on how he played his senior year and the contacts he and Kevin Callahan had made, we thought Andrew was in good shape after that,” said Mike Chuma. “Several schools looked to be really interested.”

And then … nothing.

“It was silent after the winter holidays,” said Mike Chuma. “That was the most challenging time. There had been all this interest and then the communication dried up. I had no answers for him.”

Andrew made an official visit to Sacred Heart and received an offer from the school, but wasn’t interested in the program, which competes in the Northeast Conference.

“As soon as he got back in the car he said he didn’t want to go there,” said Mike Chuma. “It wasn’t for him.”

Andrew did receive an invite as a preferred walk-on at UMass, his dad’s alma mater. Ironically, his father’s own experience guided Andrew away from taking that route.

“I was a preferred walk-on as a freshman and was on scholarship by my junior year at UMass,” said Mike Chuma. “But having gone through that, I was not supportive of Andrew doing the same thing. You can’t be as good as the kids on scholarship, and yet you have to put the same amount of time and effort into football.”

After getting into Suffield Academy in March, Andrew spent last summer working on further improvement.

“I just stuck to the process I’d been doing my whole high school career: Lifting, running, etc.” he said. “The RHS strength and conditioning coach, Pete McLean, had a lot to do with that. I was training with him all winter, spring, and summer of my senior year. One area we really focused on was my speed, knowing that getting to the next level would really entail increasing my speed and explosiveness, especially to showcase that at the camps and showcases over the summer.”

The effort paid dividends when Lafayette made its offer last summer and Andrew quickly gave a verbal commitment.

“Lafayette was an easy choice,” he said. “Everything about the school is appealing. It’s Division I football; the education is referred to as “mini-Ivy League”; the football facilities are second to none in Division IAA.

“I never thought twice about Lafayette. The coaches there are really cool and really want to win and I’m really excited about being able to work with them. Also I think a league like the Patriot League is perfect for me because I can really see myself as one of the best players in four years. I feel really confident going in that, yeah, maybe I could have gone to a better football school, but the education at Lafayette is second to none and also I will be able to not just play but excel on the field.”

Andrew did nothing to discourage Lafayette during his post-grad season at Suffield Academy. He finished with 60 tackles and two interceptions as the Tigers went 7-2 and won the school’s fourth New England prep school title.

“Playing at Suffield was definitely a step up in competition as any given team we played had a handful of Division I or college players,” said Andrew. “So the kids I played against were definitely bigger, faster and stronger, which was good because I could get used to playing against that type of competition, which I knew I would face in college.”

Seeing how mercurial the recruiting process can be, Mike Chuma’s feelings are a mix of pride and relief.

“It’s been quite a journey,” he said. “There are so many highs and lows, twists and turns. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Andrew Chuma

Former Ridgefield High standout Andrew Chuma (with parents Mike and Lisa) signs his letter to play college football at Lafayette. Chuma is finishing a post-grad year at Suffield Academy after graduating from RHS last June.

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