Des Moines welcomes two new college soccer programs next fall, when teams from AIB College of Business take the field for the first time.
American Institute of Business athletic director Terry Wilson announced on July 1 that Brandon Ermels is the head coach of the Eagles’ men’s and women’s teams. As part of the school’s burgeoning athletic department, the soccer programs join the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) in 2012.
Ermels, the Des Moines Menace Reserves coach for the past five years, is up to the challenge of starting a soccer tradition at AIB, whose campus sits a couple miles south of downtown Des Moines. With the city’s skyline as the backdrop, Ermels shared his vision last week, his voice resonating with unbridled enthusiasm and lofty optimism.
“It’s exciting, to say the least,” Ermels said. “This is really an opportunity to build a legacy, to start on the ground floor and build a successful program. I’m really blessed.”
Back on familiar terrain, Ermels’ new role is a return to his roots. For starters, he has family ties to the college. His father, Martin, and brother, Cullen, are AIB graduates.
“To be able to give back to that, and to be able to contribute here, means a lot to me,” said Ermels, who grew up in Urbandale.
The Eagles will compete in the NAIA’s Midwest Collegiate Conference, one that Ermels knows well.
He was an all-MCC first team selection his senior year (2004) at William Penn University in Oskaloosa. The next fall, he cut his college-coaching teeth at MCC member Waldorf College. He guided the men’s team from 2005-2007, and also served as head coach for the women’s side his final year in Forest City.
For AIB, joining the conference means a natural intra-city rivalry with the established MCC teams from Grand View University, who are led by veteran coaches Blair Reid (27th season as men’s head coach) and Ventsi Stoimirov (14th season as the women’s head coach). It helps that Ermels knows the competition, the high level of play, and the tradition of the conference.
It helps, too, that this is not Ermels’ first time starting a program. He was the first boys soccer coach at Ottumwa High School (2003-2005), and he still holds the Bulldogs’ records for career and single-season wins.
Ermels will also draw from success at his most recent coaching stop. For each of the last three years, he was the head men’s coach at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. In his second season at ICCC, the Tritons made it all the way to the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division-I Elite Eight. Ermels was named regional coach of the year following that memorable season.
Finding a home
The Eagles will play their home games at Cownie Soccer Park in Des Moines. As part of an agreement with officials from City of Des Moines Park and Recreation, the Eagles join Grand View and Drake as college teams who call Cownie home.
Securing a field for home games was the biggest hurdle in starting things at AIB, according to Ermels.
“To have our home base out there, with some of the best fields in the Midwest, that makes us legitimate,” said Ermels. ‘We have instant visibility in the soccer community.”
Without any field space on AIB’s land-locked campus, Ermels is working with a local soccer club to build a partnership that includes his teams’ use of fields for practice.
Hitting the recruiting trail
The next step: identifying the first recruiting class in the history of AIB soccer.
As a starting point, Ermels is ensuring all the area’s club and high-school coaches know there’s a new local option for aspiring college-soccer players.
“It’s just about getting the word out, getting the student-athletes aware of what we have,” Ermels explained. “My plan of attack is creating a strong junior-college connection. To take advantage of that knowledge, I think, is going to help us be competitive right away. We’ll also rely heavily on the strength and talent from local players.”
What is the coach looking for in his recruits?
“For me, it’s important they have a commitment to being good students,” Ermels said. “We have the most successful team on the field, when we have players who are successful in the classroom.
“We’re looking for student-athletes who want to get to the next level. And, to have that next level here with the Des Moines Menace (Premier Development League team), what better opportunity? I’d like to see a nice feeder system, with the Menace as a proving ground for our top players.”
Ermels added that his time coaching the Menace Reserves has helped him connect with top-caliber talent, the kind of talent the Eagles need to play at a high level.
He finds himself in a rare position. Since he graduated from William Penn, this is the first time he has not been actively coaching in the fall. This frees him up to be on the recruiting trail at a time when most college coaches are fully dedicated to running practices, coaching home games and travelling with their teams.
Back in Des Moines, he’ll also be able to be more hands-on with the local indoor-soccer facility he owns and operates. Soccer House provides another avenue to promote AIB soccer, as many of the area’s top high-school stars play there in leagues and tournaments during Iowa’s cold-weather months. The Ermels family started Soccer House in 1993, transforming a rural West Des Moines horse arena into this popular spot for indoor soccer.
Exciting times at AIB
Ermels loves what the school has to offer students. He believes in the value of the same AIB education that his father and brother received.
“I was amazed to find out we have a 99.4 percent job-placement rate,” Ermels shared. “It says people come here for the right reasons – experiences that position students for long-term success.
“If I could’ve designed a school to coach at, AIB would be that template.”
It’s an exciting time for the 90-year-old college, whose athletic department will soon balloon from three team sports (women’s basketball and men’s and women’s golf) to nine. Women’s volleyball just started its inaugural season, and men’s basketball opens this fall. AIB baseball and softball are set to debut in 2013, one year after the school’s soccer teams make history.
“The school’s got an incredible buzz. The energy here is just unbelievable,” Ermels said. “You can just see it on people’s faces around campus. This is a great place to be.”