Boggs in elite group

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There are hordes of successful athletes out there boasting long and illustrious lists of accomplishments, yet most of them will never find themselves in the same conversation as 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and four-time National Football League MVP Peyton Manning.

But New England Revolution rookie midfielder Zak Boggs is aiming to join their elite company after just 53 minutes of professional soccer action.

Late last week, Boggs was named one of six finalists for the Amateur Athletic Union’s Sullivan Award, which honors the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. Although Boggs is a professional now, the current award is recognizing athletes for their accomplishments in 2009, and takes into account sportsmanship, leadership and character in addition to athletic abilities.

“According to [the AAU] web site it’s considered the ‘Oscar’ for amateur athletics in America,” said Boggs. “It’s based not only on the on-field performance, but also character and citizenship.”

Boggs was originally selected as one of the top 14 nominees from the list of submissions to the AAU Sullivan Committee. He was then selected as one of six finalists through a combination of online public voting and ballots from national governing bodies, members of the media and Division I sports information directors.

The list of previous winners of the James E. Sullivan Award – and I’m not exaggerating here – includes some of the greatest athletes the world has ever known. In addition to the previously-mentioned Phelps and Manning, world-class athletes like Wilma Rudolph, Mark Spitz, Greg Louganis, Jackie Joyner-Kersey, Jim Abbott, Michelle Kwan, Jessica Long and Tim Tebow have all been presented with the award, which has been handed out annually since 1930.

Last year, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson received the award.

Boggs is joined on this year’s finalist list by five other elite athletes: Angela Bizzarri (Cross Country), Erin Hamlin (Luge), Megan Hodge (Volleyball), Clint Moore (Baseball) and Amy Palmeiro-Winters (Ultra Marathon).

“Just to be mentioned with a group of people such as that – champions on and off the field – it’s pretty awesome,” Boggs said.

The award will be presented on April 14 at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.

While the 23-year-old graduate of the University of South Florida is overtly modest, Boggs is already familiar with being nominated for prestigious awards. After finishing his degree in Biomedical Sciences early with a perfect 4.0 grade-point-average and beginning graduate work in Economics and Marketing, he was honored as the recipient of the 2010 Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup Award and was a finalist for the Lowes Senior CLASS Award.

Most would be overwhelmed simply by the schoolwork required to graduate with such a degree – never mind early and with a perfect GPA – but add in Boggs’ daily commitments to soccer during his time in college and it’s hard to believe he had time to eat or sleep.

Of course, he did have time to eat and sleep – but only in between his stints volunteering with countless different organizations.

A tireless worker in the community, Boggs has dedicated time to volunteering at hospitals, cancer research centers and art museums, while he’s also a member of a jump rope team which performs shows at local schools and explains the importance of exercise.

He’s also spent much of his free time coaching youth soccer, of course.

“It’s just the way I was raised, to be honest,” he said when asked why volunteer work is so important to him. “I’ve been volunteering since I was in elementary school and it’s just something I like to do.”

The majority of Boggs’ volunteer work has taken place in his home state of West Virginia and Florida, where he attended college. Now in the unfamiliar state of Massachusetts with a blossoming professional soccer career to keep him busy, one would assume that helping others would take a backseat for the time being.

But anyone who assumes that doesn’t know Boggs, who has already contacted Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro and a local gym in Walpole searching for volunteer opportunities.

“It’s tough coming into a new place,” he said. “You have to go through a bunch of training, so it takes some time.”

With Boggs providing his services to the community on an almost-daily basis, even his family can’t keep track of his accomplishments.

“I had to prepare this statement listing the five things I’m most proud of,” he explained. “When my dad read it he was like, ‘Zak, I didn’t even realize you’d done half of this stuff.’ It’s just taken on its own being, pretty much.”

To focus solely on Boggs’ accomplishments off the field would be short-sighted, however, considering the success he’s had on the soccer field. After all, his athletic achievements have just as much to do with his nomination for the Sullivan Award as his off-the-field work.

Boggs scored 18 goals and added eight assists in his collegiate career, which included stints at West Virginia, Central Florida and South Florida. In 2009, he was named to the NSCAA All-Northeast Region first team and earned All-BIG EAST third team honors, one year after helping the Bulls win their first BIG EAST Championship.

His successful collegiate career led to his selection by the Revolution in the second round (31st overall) of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, and he’s jumped full stride into professional soccer the way he has in most other endeavors. After earning a contract with an impressive preseason showing, Boggs has already found his way onto the field, making substitute appearances in both of the Revs’ first two games of the regular season.

Despite being a scholar-athlete and a professional soccer player, it’s still Boggs’ generosity in the community which is perhaps most amazing.

The kindness Boggs displays without effort came into focus as he relayed a story after training on Wednesday afternoon.

Boggs is currently staying in a local hotel with teammate Joseph Niouky while searching for a permanent place to live. One afternoon, the pair was outside the hotel juggling the ball back and forth when a young boy approached and struck up a conversation.

As it turns out, the child’s family had been displaced from its home by the recent flooding, and was living in the hotel until further notice. When the boy discovered that Boggs played professional soccer, he became excited and asked if the Revolution rookie would come out to one his youth team’s practices. The boy even went so far as to write a letter with directions to the field and left it at the hotel’s front desk.

I probably don’t need to tell you whether or not Boggs accepted the boy’s invitation. After all, he is a finalist for the AAU Sullivan Award.