Sept. 24, 2011
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. --- In and around Albuquerque, Ben Ashwill’s name is synonymous with soccer. It has been for years, and will continue to be hereafter. Recently, a plaque was mounted in the UNM Soccer Complex in memory of Ashwill and his contributions to Lobo soccer and the Albuquerque community – and with good reason.
A four-year starter for the Lobos in both offensive and defensive positions, Ashwill put together quite a resume at the University of New Mexico. His first season at UNM culminated in freshman All-America honors. He was a three-time Academic All-American, Academic All-District and Academic All-MPSF, and four times named All-MPSF. He is the only three-time Academic All-American in school history and one of two freshman All-Americans in program history.
Yet his soccer legacy in Albuquerque started long before his time at UNM. It began with friends who he would eventually call teammates on the Lobo pitch
It began, really, with the Bandidos.
“When Ben and I were about nine years old, we read in an ad somewhere that there was going to be a competitive club team tryout,” Ben’s former teammate and current Lobo assistant coach, Brandon Moss said. “We both played rec soccer for several years, and were ready to make the jump to a more competitive field. For whatever reason, Benji and I were drawn to each other from the start.”
Moss and Ashwill’s friendship was built on the grounds that they were both super competitors, but unselfish in nature. It grew quickly into a bond that would become life-long.
“The memories that I have of being friends with Benji, even outside of soccer, are some of the fondest memories of my childhood,” Moss said. “I remember playing soccer in his living room with a street hockey goal, breaking lamps and his parents never getting mad at me. I remember playing basketball with his Dad in their driveway. Sleepovers at Benji’s were a highlight for everybody.”
The Bandidos brought more than just young players together, but their families as well.
“The beauty of that whole team is that the core of the team stayed together from year one, probably through U-19,” Moss explained. “That was rare. Teams are always changing, trying to create super-teams with different players. But the chemistry and closeness of our team and families was unique.”
Parents wanted to get involved in soccer and became more invested, because they knew that the team would still be together the following year. Bandido head coach Ricardo Beraun described the group as one big family, “a unit.”
“I coached Ben and the others as if they were my own,” Beraun said. “Needless to say, Ben was a tremendous athlete, but he went beyond that as a person. He had a contagious personality. His work ethic, dedication, and unselfishness were nothing to be compared to.”
As a Bandido and later, a Matador at Sandia High School, Ashwill quickly found himself in the Albuquerque spotlight as one of the premier attacking players in the region. While he was highly recruited throughout the country, his heart was always in Albuquerque.
The significance of that to the New Mexico soccer program was paramount.
“When he signed [in 2002], the dominoes started falling, and a bunch of the core guys from his club team stayed,” Ben’s father Tom, and mother Donna, explained. “He just loved that team, and those guys.”
Moss was a core guy who followed suit in 2002.
“I don’t know if I ever expressed it to him, but my decision to come here was because of Ben,” Moss admitted. “Jeremy is a great recruiter and did a great job selling the university to me, but when Benji committed here, I couldn’t help but follow.
“Growing up I had these visions of coming to UNM with Benji, being roommates with him and transforming Lobo soccer,” he continued. “In our freshman year, those visions started becoming realities. It was awesome.”
The Lobos finished 19-4-0 in 2002 with Ashwill leading the team in goals scored with 12. Following his sophomore season though, Ashwill – pegged from age nine as a known attacker – made the switch from the forward position to an attacking defender position.
The community’s response was that of bewilderment. Local news regularly showcased Ben’s skills as a forward. His offensive accomplishments were “far superior to anything anyone had ever done,” as described by Moss.
The only person who didn’t have anything to say about the switch was Ben.
“He didn’t think twice about it,” Moss said continued. “He took on that position and excelled. He never complained - he cared too much about our team.”
With a record of 17-1-2, New Mexico made the program’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 later in the 2004 season, falling to Virginia in penalty kicks. And in 2005, the Lobos left their mark.
Both seniors at the time, Ashwill and Moss anchored the Lobo defense in all 23 games en route to and 18-2-3 mark and the runner-up spot in the 2005 College Cup. Ashwill finished the year ranked second on the team with 2,126 minutes played, and contributed the game-winning assist in the quarterfinal game against Cal.
Ashwill logged 6,385 total minutes on the pitch for the Lobos. He is tied for eighth all-time at UNM with 19 career goals, including four game-winners. He made 70 starts for the team and is tied for most games played with 83. He graduated in 2006 with a degree in Business Management.
He was also incredibly involved in youth soccer in Albuquerque throughout his career.
“He always worked really well with children,” Donna Ashwill said. “He was great at coaching and always wanted to coach youth soccer.”
“Ben helped others, sometimes almost to a fault,” Tom Ashwill added. “He wasn’t egotistical, and was more of a quiet leader. He was a show-by-example guy.”
Ben Ashwill was killed in a tragic car collision in January of 2010. Yet the relationships that he developed, and impact that he had on those around him, make him a constant representation of Lobo soccer throughout the state of New Mexico.
“What’s unique about Albuquerque is that if you have the kind of success that Benji had, you’re going to be remembered for a long, long time. Stories like Ben’s don’t resonate as loudly other places as they do here – I think that’s one of the coolest things about Albuquerque,” Moss said.
All things considered, to say that a mounted plaque is necessary to preserve the memory of Ben Ashwill is preposterous. To say that Ben was an asset to New Mexico, Albuquerque and Lobo soccer is equally inaccurate.
In truth, Ashwill is still an asset to New Mexico, and Albuquerque in general.
“I’m still coaching club soccer, and for awhile, I used Ben as the comparison for all others,” Beraun said. “I tried and tried to find another Benjamin – but there’s only one Ben. So instead of the comparison, he is the example.
“I still share his accomplishments with my younger players, and teach them using Ben’s personality and work ethic as an example. He is still a role model in this community.”
Ashwill’s memorial plaque is located at the northwest corner of the UNM Soccer Complex, facing the field. It represents a small tribute to a “wonderful son, brother, friend and teammate.” He is a Lobo for life who “played with the heart of a lion.”