Penn Hills’ Collins preparing for a 2-sport college career

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020 | 4:16 PM


AJ Collins is seeing with double vision as he will join both the men’s soccer and baseball teams at Penn State New Kensington.

Baseball always has been the first love for the Penn Hills senior as he started to play the sport at a young age. Soccer came later — in eighth grade — as a fun activity with friends.

“I started to get decent in soccer, and it became an option (for college) along with baseball,” he said. “I thought, some kids don’t have to opportunity to play one sport in college, so if I had the chance to play two, I had to take it.”

The goalkeeper for the Penn Hills boys soccer team and a catcher, pitcher and utility player for the Indians baseball team saw his final baseball season come to a sudden end when the PIAA canceled all spring sports seasons earlier this month as part of ongoing safety measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been pretty rough,” Collins said. “I’ve been playing with these guys for a long time. We had a big group of seniors coming into this season. This season had been a big goal for us since we were 12 years old winning all-star games and tournaments. To get it ripped from our hands kind of hurt.”

The Indians, with a new coach in Rodney Stubbs and several returning starters, had their sights set on improving last year’s 3-12 overall record and 3-9 mark in Section 1-5A.

“AJ is a great baseball player and person, on and off the field,” Stubbs said. “He contributed and worked hard every single day. He would do anything I needed him to do through his work ethic. He showed great leadership as one of my captains. He does everything he needs to do to improve himself, and I am sure he’s continuing to do that in order to be successful in college.”

While his final high school sports season will not happen, Collins, who will focus his studies on early childhood education, is grateful he will be able to continue to compete at the next level.

He said he communicated with Lions men’s soccer coach Mark Duffield in recent days and will begin a training regimen for what he hopes will be a season tentatively scheduled to begin in August.

Penn State New Kensington finished its 2019 season 9-6 overall and made it to the Penn State University Athletic Conference semifinals before falling to Penn State Beaver.

“(Coach Duffield) said last year’s goalkeeper was a senior and he wasn’t going to be coming back, so that really has me excited that I can get the starting role if I work hard,” Collins said.

While practicing stay-at-home safety measures, Collins said he’s been conscientious about staying fit, both in terms of his sports and overall.

“I try and get up to the field as much as I can to run, get in extra ground balls, long toss, things like that,” said Collins, who counts kicking for the Penn Hills football team during its undefeated 2018 state-title run as a major highlight of his high school athletic career.

“I also hope to continue to get in as much goalkeeper work as I can with a lot of cardio. I also have weights in my basement I use as much as I can. I try to make sure I am eating healthy around the house, knowing how easy it can be to just snack on things.”

After what Collins hoped was going to be a full season of baseball with his Penn Hills teammates, he planned to return to his Plum Senior American Legion team with the goal of another playoff run. But plans for an American Legion season this summer are in doubt.

Plum defeated Monroeville in the finals of the Allegheny South league playoffs last summer and qualified for the Region 6 tournament.

“We made a pretty good run at it last year, and we were excited with this year’s team and felt we could make it all the way,” Collins said. “That kind of got canceled pretty soon, and it stung, too.”

Collins said he hopes to play some type of organized baseball this summer and has signed up with a team in a Pittsburgh-based RBI baseball league.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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