The Utush brothers started their soccer careers with a dream and a soccer ball. Five years ago, they started their own soccer academy, the USA Stars, and now that academy is a success and sending players through the program off to college.
AJ Utush, founder and the director of player development on the girls’ side, and his brother, Rashid, director of soccer operations and the director of player development on the boys’ side, run the academy with their brothers, Hamit, and Adrian, who coaches the U-9 to U-14 girls’ teams. The academy has around 15 teams made up of 200 families, 90 percent of which resident in El Dorado Hills or Folsom.
Despite its relatively smaller size compared to bigger clubs in the Sacramento area, the USA Stars have not only had success in their brief history, but does so with a different concept.
“We’re not trying to make professionals out of 10-year-olds, we only focus on one team per age group with the ultimate focus on child development and getting into college,” AJ Utush said. “We’ve got 16 players out of our 200 families who are ODP players and that’s a pretty good ratio. Some clubs don’t have any. Our 03 boys’ team has eight ODP players and that’s half the entire Nor-Cal team. It’s amazing to see that talent.”
The 2001 girls’ team is a talented group that has the lofty goal of being national champions. They are currently ranked first in Northern California, first in the West region and third nationally by gotsoccer.com. The team has qualified for Western Regionals and hope to advance to the national tournament this summer. Two years ago, the team lost by penalty kicks in the national semifinals, and want to win it all this year.
Utush, a 1995 graduate of Oakmont High and 1999 graduate of St. Mary’s where he earned All-American status, has two daughters who are following in his footsteps. Aliyah, 21, is attending San Diego State University on an athletic scholarship and will graduate in a few months. Kiera, 16, is a junior at Whitney High School and also has a scholarship offer from SDSU. Both girls were Most Valuable Players of their respective league/conference this past season.
One big goal of the academy is to get those players who want to play in college prepared to do so.
“We have checks and balances each year to make sure the player is staying on course, but the results will come,” Utush said. “We’re not built to be huge, but with the proper development and training and the right work ethic in a supportive family, we can turn a kid into whatever he or she wants to be. Some coaches and clubs think kids are ready to turn pro now. We’re saying wait, go to college, get your education and then do whatever you want to do. We want kids who are hungry and who work hard. Kids who want a second chance to be someone they were told they couldn’t be, I’ll coach those kids every day in the rain.”
Tryouts for the USA Stars will be held May 12-13 and a second set on June 4-10. For more information, go to usastarsacademy.org.