A hidden gem.

For the last four years, Mike Kochiss has grown to love the campus nestled on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, with the whaling port of Gloucester to the north and the witch trial town of Salem to the South. Curtis Point is just a stone’s throw away, as is Smith Point, where you can stand and watch the ocean waves crash onto the rocks. The colors of the fall, the snows in the winter, the return of life in the spring, Endicott College had it all.

“I think it’s is a hidden gem,” Kochiss said. “When I first visited here … right when you pull off, the campus is so beautiful, it’s unbelievable. It just grabs you.”

How hard did it grab Kochiss, who had graduated from Fairfield Ludlowe and was a first-team All-State and All-FCIAC player as a senior? This was a kid that had his sights on playing Division I baseball. Nothing else would be good enough. But after speaking with the Gulls coaching staff, after touring the facilities, after seeing the comradery within, not only the baseball team, but the entire athletic program, Kochiss was hooked.

“The campus is beautiful, the athletic program, especially baseball, is great,” Kochiss said. “There are great facilities. It’s a special place.”

And he’s not the only one that thinks so. Over the last few years, several other Fairfield athletes have made the drive to Beverly, Mass., to the campus by the ocean and have also been smitten with its charms. Hakim Fleming (Notre Dame-Fairfield), Allen Gibson (Fairfield Prep), Sam Opont (Prep) and Ayinde Johnson (Prep), all play for the Gulls football team; Chris Montani (Prep) and Jamie Becker (Prep) play soccer. Chris’ younger sister, Alexa (Warde) plays on the women’s soccer team; Justin Horine (Ludlowe) plays lacrosse and Joe Deutsch (Warde) plays baseball.

Call them the Endicott Connection.

This spring, Kochiss’ senior season, the shortstop/third baseman batted .399 in 44 games with four home runs, 32 RBI and 13 stolen bases. He was the first athlete in to claim back-to-back Commonwealth Coast Conference Player of the Year honors since the honor has been awarded, dating back to 1995. He was a CCC Academic All-Conference selection, a NEIBA All-New England third team pick and a ABCA/Rawlings All-New England third team selection.

Along with the allure of the campus, Endicott has a strong internship program and that was another reason why Kochiss chose the Division III school. A finance grad, Kochiss interned with Moneco Advisors in Fairfield, a wealth management firm that specializes in retirement plans and with Thomas Pacilio Wealth Management, a firm located in Westport.

“Not many people really understand the benefit of the internship programs here,” he said. “I didn’t realize how important that is toward the future. In the beginning, I just wanted to play baseball, but when I started meeting new people and adding to my resume and getting my feet wet in the actual work place, it sets you apart from a lot of other students that go to college.”

Fleming, a 5-foot-11, 265-pound sophomore fullback, majoring in liberal studies, also found the internship program as a key factor in choosing Endicott.

"I really liked that,” he said in a previous interview. “They're required to have internships there and I feel like that would help set me up to have a job in the future. They have very good programs there and with the school being in Boston, there are a lot of sports teams there that I could work with."

Last season, Fleming rushed for 196 yards on 49 carries and scored five touchdowns as the Gulls went 5-5. This season, in four games, Fleming has 51 yards in 12 carries and a touchdown for Endicott (1-3).

Like Kochiss, there were several Division I programs after Fleming, led by Sacred Heart University, who wanted him as a wrestler - he was a two-time Class S state heavyweight champion - but in the end, Endicott won out.

It was a tough decision but my heart is with football. I've been playing it my whole life," Fleming said. "(Endicott) is a great school. I love it here.”

As does Gibson.

“The whole set up here is just great,” Gibson said, who was limited to just four games at safety last year with the Gulls due to a broken hand. “I really enjoyed the campus, it’s amazing and the internship program was awesome.”

Gibson, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior, is majoring in business management. He is currently second on the team in tackles (23) along with a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

For Johnson - who is tied for fifth on the team in tackles with 12, including a tackle for loss -- the hook to Endicott was partly due to a new coaching staff that wanted to bring a new attitude to the program, and …

“Four private beaches,” Johnson said, smiling. “The campus itself is just beautiful. It’s a small school, like Prep, classes are small and that’s just what I was looking for. I didn’t want a big campus.”

Coach Kevin DeWalt is now in his third season, going 5-5 in each of his first two years.

“He told us that before he came, the program was like, very slow, no one was really into it, so the school brought in a whole new staff and what he’s trying to do is completely turn the program around,” Johnson said. “In my incoming class, he’s bringing in 40 freshmen, coming in this year because at least 20 to 30 kids quit that weren’t committed to the program, so now he wants people that are committed to it and want to come out and compete.”

Like Fleming, Gibson and Opont.

Chris Montani is a junior business management major on the Gulls soccer team with freshman Jamie Becker playing alongside. The Gulls are currently 6-1-1. Montani has done volunteer work at the Sheehan Center in Bridgeport, where he helped kids with homework and tutored them. He also tutored fifth grade students at the McKinley School.

In his bio, Becker - who scored the game-winning goal against WPI on Sept. 23 -- said that he selected Endicott “because of the Exercise Science program and the well-respected academic environment that each student experiences. I feel that Endicott will allow me to thrive both in the classroom and on the soccer field.”

Becker scored a goal in the Gulls’ 4-0 win over Thomas University of Maine on September 7. He has three goals this season in eight games. Alexa Montani has played in two games so far this season and brother Chris has played in six games, starting two.

Deutsch finished a solid freshman season, playing in 40 games, driving in 17 runs and scoring 14. He is majoring in marketing.

“I didn’t know much about Joey before he came. I knew he played for Warde and that they reached the state championship game last year, so I was excited to see that someone else from Fairfield would be on the team,” Kochiss said. “It’s funny how it worked out because he was my locker buddy. He had the locker right next to me and we became really close. He’s a great guy and a great baseball player, he’s going to have a tremendous next three years. He played a lot last year and did well.”

Deutsch interned with the CT Challenge organization this summer. He also raked leaves with the baseball team. At Warde, he was a mentor for elementary school students.

"Being mentor at a local elementary school really meant a lot to me because I was able to give back to the community,” Deutsch said in his bio. “While gaining new relationships with superiors and students around me.”

And that athletic comradery that Kochiss spoke of can easily be seen by simply going to a Gulls sporting event.

“I go to a lot of sporting events around campus,” Kochiss said. “All the teams on campus are really supportive of each other.”

Added Gibson: “Usually during the basketball season, we (the football guys) all hang out together. It’s fun.”

celsberry@ctpost.com