From Midwood to Harvard via the gridiron

July 11, 2014 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mark Goldman has excelled in the classroom and on the football field and has been rewarded with a full scholarship to play football at Harvard next year. Photos by Rob Abruzzese.
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He’s got brains, not just brawn.

In a day and age where so many young student-athletes are struggling just to get by, or worse, just being pushed through the system, Mark Goldman from Midwood has thrived.

Goldman was recently selected to compete in the prestigious Empire Challenge Game, an all-star game between New York City and Long Island, but, more importantly, he was accepted into Harvard University.

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It’s a nice achievement for anybody to star on the football field and in the classroom, but Goldman, a son of Ukranian immigrant parents, refuses to take any of the credit accomplishments and instead sings the praises of both his parents and football coaches.

“It’s a lot of my coaching staff pushing me, a lot of my parents pushing me,” Goldman said. “There is a lot that I expect out of myself also, but I think it really helps to have people surrounding me to keep me in check. If my grades start slacking, my parents let me know and if I start getting distracted on the field my coach lets me know.

“I know that I’m lucky because not everyone has that support system that cares about them so much.”

As much as Goldman wants to deflect credit a lot of this is on his shoulders as well. For one thing, his shoulders are huge. He’s 6-foot-5 and 275-pounds with a lot of speed and athleticism for a big man. He’s also, by all accounts, very driven to achieve his goals.

“His worth ethic is unbelievable and competing-wise, we realized right away that we wanted to make him captain because of that unbelievable drive that he has,” said Shaun O’Connor, the head coach of the Empire Challenge from Lincoln High School. “I mean, I’ve only had him for a week or so for practice, but right away you can see what a hard worker he is. He’s also constantly asking a lot of questions, I’m not used to that.”

Goldman’s coach at Midwood, Anthony Odita, could not stop raving about him. He was quick to point out that not only does he find time to balance football and school, but he is also very well liked. He told a story about Goldman hopping on the ferry and walking to a Staten Island school to support the Midwood girl’s lacrosse team when it was in the playoffs. He didn’t have a girlfriend on the team, it was just a big game and that is the type of person he is.

The beneficiary of all of this is, no doubt, going to be Harvard. Goldman didn’t have a ton of colleges knocking down his door like so many other athletes from Brooklyn. Goldman was 15 as a junior, when most of his peers were 16 or 17. With so much of his focus on school, he never worked out the way a lot of offensive linemen usually do. So when it came time to send out junior-year highlights it didn’t stand out the way it could have.

Goldman mostly got attention from Division-III schools. Odita said that one Division-I school had interest but it didn’t last long. That was their mistake because he started taking a big leap during his senior year as his body matured and now that he’s begun a regular weight-lifting program in preparation for college, he’s caught up quickly.

“I think (a lot of schools) dropped the ball on him,” Odita said. “By the time schools started seeing his senior-year highlights it was already late in the process. Even Harvard discovered him late. By the time he committed there, though, the coaches told me that they thought he fell out of the sky because he came out of nowhere.”

Goldman, who definitely has aspirations to play professional football, doesn’t feel like he missed out because programs like the University of Pennsylvania or Ohio State passed on him. He’s still as focused as ever on the classroom.

“It was the way I was brought up where academics is first,” Goldman said. “As much as I would love to be a professional athlete, I always need a Plan B and there is no better Plan B than a Harvard education. Getting into an Ivy League school was always my goal. If other schools had offered me along with Harvard, I’d still have picked Harvard. If my talent is there, it will be seen no matter what school I go to.”

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