A.J. Scola: Talking the Talk, Walking the Walk

By Alex Kantor, Sports Information Director

Scola Cover Cropped
Senior DB A.J. Scola provides some of the
swagger for the Amherst defensive unit.
Playing defense for the Amherst College football team during head coach E.J. Mills’ 12 seasons comes with some of the highest demands that a student-athlete can have placed on them. The unit has ranked among the national leaders against the run nearly every year, and has a no-nonsense, blue-collar attitude on the field. Senior defensive back A.J. Scola has added a bit of attitude and swagger to the unit over the past few seasons, making everyone in the NESCAC take notice.

Scola is a two-sport veteran, playing goaltender for the Lord Jeff ice hockey team, as well as defensive back and nearly every special teams position on the football field.

There is something about the big moment that Scola relishes. He explains that “playing cornerback and goalie are very similar. Both places you are the last line of defense between your opponent and a score.”

Coach Mills explains that Scola is a “real game-day guy. He is our big-time, big-play guy on defense.” Mills assessment was never more on display than last season as the Lord Jeffs were the visiting team at Colby’s homecoming festivities. After being held scoreless in the first quarter, Scola helped swing momentum in Amherst’s favor shortly into the second frame.

Following the first score of the day from the Amherst offense, Scola picked off a Colby pass and scampered 44 yards to pay dirt. The pick-six put Amherst up 14-0, en route to a 28-point second quarter, and a 28-13 road win.

Scola has not always been the standout player that Amherst fans have come to embrace. As an academically strong high school student, Scola played football and ice hockey for Worcester Academy. During his senior season, he made the tough decision to enroll at Phillips Exeter as a post-graduate.
 
The extra year spent at prep school gave Scola more time to contemplate playing hockey at the next level, in either the USHL or Division I, or heading to a Division III school to play two sports. Amherst was always his top choice for the latter, and the 2007 NESCAC Second Team player has never looked back.

Scola Cropped
A handful of teammates have taught him how to carry himself on, and off, the field, including quarterback Colt Brennan, now of the Washington Redskins. As a post-graduate at Worcester Academy, Brennan showed Scola that he needed to play with confidence. “Colt told me to have a swagger,” tells Scola, “but not to show up my opponents. He told me to just have fun, because that’s when I play well.”

The defensive playmaker also feels that teammates Mike Salerno ’07 and Nick Zieler ’06 had a significant impact on how he conducts himself now. “Zieler taught me the attitude and swagger, but Salerno also showed me how to have a quiet confidence, work hard and taught us all how to act off the field,” tells Scola.

Mills and the Amherst football coaching staff trust Scola is able to have his loud personality and flair on the gridiron, while remaining focused, because he is such a hard worker off the field. Luke Bussard, who coaches Scola on special teams, explains that “Scola works extremely hard, not only physically, but in the film room – learning his opponent.  There is no doubt he has talent, and because of his work and dedication, he has become one of the elite players in the league at his position.”

Mills adds that Scola “works as hard as anyone in his preparation.” He continues to add that “Scola’s showmanship and swag is always on display on the field, but at the end of the day, he backs it all up with the dedication off the field.”

Scola has played a number of different niche positions during the last four seasons, including cornerback, gunner on punt coverage, returning kick-offs and punts, and blocking kicks from the outside. Mills explains that “he is a guy that we turn to in all those spots because he is very athletic.”

It is his athleticism that has helped him in net for the Amherst men’s ice hockey team as well. As a first-year, Scola saw very little time on the ice, backing up then-starter Josh Fillman ’07. He served as the back-up throughout much of his sophomore campaign as well, but Amherst fans remember a special performance from Scola against NESCAC and Little Three archrival Wesleyan University in the quarterfinals of the 2006-07 conference tournament.

Making just his fourth career start in goal for Amherst, Scola lifted the Lord Jeffs to a 2-0 win at Wesleyan, making 33 saves, including 14 in the final period. He was named NESCAC Player of the Week after the shutout, which was the only time the Cardinals failed to score during that season.

Of that memorable game, Scola explains that it was a “real team win. My teammates were behind me, and I wanted to win for them.” It is interesting to hear a goalie in any sport describe their teammates as being behind them, as they are always one save away from lifting their team to victory.

Despite signs that Scola had a future of dominating NESCAC hockey, he decided to miss a majority of last year’s hockey schedule to study abroad. He followed his semester in Madrid with a summer at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business before returning to campus this fall.

Scola believes that the “more places you go, the more well rounded you will be,” adding that “you never know what you are going to like anyways.” Wherever Scola lands after Amherst, you can be sure he will bring a passion and swagger all his own.