Six Lincoln High School football players are one step closer to the big leagues.
Gathering together at the Ocean Parkway school’s library on Wednesday, football coach Sean O’Connor watched as a half-dozen of his kids sign National Letters of Intent with colleges eager to scoop them up.
“We’re catching up,” said senior running back/defensive back Denzel Duchenne, who signed with Division II Virginia Union.
In addition to Duchenne, running back Kareem Folkes and offensive lineman Keyon Barnwell signed with Division II C.W. Post; two-way lineman Robert Kitching picked Division I-A UMass; fellow lineman Armani Gordon put pen to paper with Division II Southern Connecticut State; and wide receiver/linebacker Tarik Pusey is headed to Rhode Island of the Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA).
“It’s like seeing your son go off to school — except I don’t have to pay,” O’Connor, the 11th-year coach, joked. “It’s a great thing for these kids and their families and New York City. I’m tired of hearing New York City is just a basketball place. More and more kids are getting recognized at different levels.”
College scouts noticed the six players in December, after Lincoln won its first city title since 1993.
Two large desks were set up in the library for the college-bound students stood in front of the program’s younger players, school officials, teachers and even a few basketball players. It was unlike any other National Signing Day at Lincoln.
“It used to be in my office,” principal Ari Hoogenboom said. “Now look at it now. We don’t even have enough room. Hopefully, next year, it will be in the auditorium.”
In each case, a Railsplitter will be joining a previous teammate, aside from Kitching. Duchenne will be with safety Kerrick Simmons at Virginia Union; Barnwell and Folkes will team with quarterback Andrew Vital at C.W. Post; the same goes for Gordon and offensive lineman Rotchill Medor at Southern Connecticut State; and Pusey will be with defensive back Selwyn Nicholas at Rhode Island.
“Our guys are proving to coaches they should come back to Lincoln and offer more scholarships,” O’Connor said.
The day capped a memorable year for the program, which has reached the city finals at Yankee Stadium in consecutive years, has won 20 regular-season games and now has that elusive title.
O’Connor, athletic director Renan Ebeid and Hoogenboom lauded each of the six players, praising their football ability as much as their character and academic standing. With that in mind, each player spoke to their younger teammates about what it takes – on the field and off – to earn such an honor.
O’Connor said most of them were qualified as juniors, making it easier for them to attain scholarships. Hoogenboom said one math teacher told him his best class is full of football players because they challenge one another like they were on the gridiron.
Each of the six had a unique story. There was Duchenne bucking the odds at just 5-foot-4 to land at Division II Virginia Union. Pusey went from a backup to a Division I-AA athlete with one standout season piggypacking his relentless offseason of workouts. Folkes, The Post’s All-City Player of the Year, qualified late after a memorable senior season and landed at C.W. Post. Gordon and Barnwell entered Lincoln as basketball hopefuls with no football background, but took to the sport and are now going to college for free.
Kitching, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound monster of a young man, didn’t play varsity football as a freshman, saw just three snaps on the junior varsity as a sophomore and is now one of only four New York City players to sign with a Division I-A school. Not only that, but he will play his home games at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
It was, indeed, a proud day for everyone in Lincoln blue. The Railsplitters entered the season as an afterthought, graduating every starter besides Folkes and Kitching. They responded to the doubters with unprecedented dominance, winning their 13 contests by a combined 518-98 and remarkably trailed just once.
It didn’t stop with that city championship at Yankee Stadium, but continued with these six players qualifying and signing on to play college football with full scholarships in tow.
“This is all you can ask for,” Kitching said. “Myself and my brothers accomplished some great things.”
Reach reporter Colin MIxson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-4514.