Editor’s Note: This is the second piece in a series by Nick Rodricks. You can read the first one here. Nick graduated this spring from Connecticut College and was a captain on the lacrosse team. He is currently working in St. Louis as a high school guidance counselor, helping inner-city kids find their way to college. Marvin the Torch never could keep his hands off somebody else’s business, particularly if the business was losing money. Now this is accepted behavior in Marvin’s profession, which is arson. But he has a bad habit of getting into places where he shouldn’t be and promising too many favors. This is where all his trouble starts. Follow him on Twitter.
Work has gotten the better of me the last few weeks so I apologize for not having been back sooner. The non-profit world doesn’t seem to stop much, even for the Holidays, but I’m grateful to finally get some time to turn some of my attention back to lacrosse. Unfortunately, keeping my nose to the grindstone for a week or two caused me to miss a great article in my hometown newspaper (representing the 410, the Baltimore Sun) on the topic of early recruiting. The article by Childs Walker was published on November 17’Th and can be found here.
Walker’s article is an even handed look at the increasingly common recruitment of high school sophomores. Ryan Conrad, a sophomore at Loyola High school in Maryland is the chosen sophomore of the 50 or more that have already committed to schools this year (according to Walker and Inside Lacrosse). The recruitment of sophomores has, at least at the Division I level, become fairly common place and although the majority of recruitment still goes on after the junior year of high school recruiting a sophomore is anything but out of the question. NCAA rules do technically forbid coaches from contacting recruits before their junior year (most sports operate on the July 1st deadline. For a good reference check out this Inside Lacrosse summary) but Walker’s article operates on the idea that there are ways to sidestep that date. The question is, what kind of precedent does this set for our sport and for college lacrosse specifically?
There are several things that make lacrosse unique (our type of athleticism is one of them), one of which is the fact that we don’t operate under the pressures of professional athletics. Obviously I acknowledge the presence of the MLL but at the same time it’s important to note how little power it has over lacrosse as a whole. The pinnacle of lacrosse is still (and will be for the foreseeable future) college and all of the prestige and rivalry that goes with it. This is what a sophomore like Ryan Conrad is seeing when he commits to the University of Virginia; he sees the pinnacle of his lacrosse career.
In addition, lacrosse athleticism, as I said a second ago, is also something I feel is entirely unique to our sport. Lacrosse requires an incredible combination of finesse, strength and speed but at the same time can be dominated by a 5’8 player like Max Quinzani. I know players who didn’t pick up a stick until 10th or 11th grade and somehow managed to get themselves on Division I teams. I know others, seemingly lacking in what we would normally call athletic talent, bouncing shots in between my legs as I unknowingly screened my goalie. Personally, I remember the first time I squared off against Steele Stanwick (we were both 14 or 15 and going to middle school next to each other) after being told how phenomenal he was for his age. I didn’t understand the hype (after all, I had a growth spurt at 14 and had convinced myself I was going to push him around all game) until he crossed me up four times behind my own net, prompting my father to ask if I wanted to try another sport. Steele became as good as he was at 14 years old but Steele’s consistency is seldom the case. It’s hard to say who will become a great lacrosse player, propelled by natural ability, and who will burn out at age 17 after years of being told they would be Division I quality.
My point is that, personally, I don’t see the harm of a kid committing in his sophomore year but I think it’s a stupid move on the part of a coaching staff. If a parent wants to put their kid through the recruiting process at such a young age then I believe they’re entitled to, we’re going to have a tough time stopping them. Unofficial visits aren’t against the rules and if a kid is good enough to warrant attention at a young age then let him get it. Young lacrosse players aspire to be college lacrosse players, not necessarily professional lacrosse players and as long as this is the case kids will want to commit to schools. But for a coach to waste time on a kid who isn’t physically or psychologically mature is a risk that I can’t imagine is worth the effort. Coach Petramala calls it a “slippery slope” and I have trouble seeing it as much more than that. At some point you’re not recruiting a player, you’re recruiting the idea of a player and hoping that’s what you get in three years. It eliminates the development of those intangible lacrosse skills.
Working in college guidance has forced me to realize how valuable a college education is and as a result I’m happy for Ryan Conrad, he’s going to get a great education. I enjoy knowing that there aren’t overbearing, professional motives in a move like this and that some students are enticed by a great program and a great education. Yet, by telling him he’s a Division I athlete at age 15 we’re asking him to play like a Division I athlete for the remainder of high school. That’s a lot of pressure for any student, let alone one who hasn’t even attended prom. I don’t think it can be great for a kid. From a psychological standpoint it’s probably not that healthy.
From a practical standpoint though, I don’t think that anyone could truly tell you what kind of player Ryan Conrad will be or how he will react to the attention. Recruiting a sophomore in high school does nothing for a college lacrosse program other than attach its name to a risk, a kid who could just as likely screw up as turn into a great player. Colleges should stick to recruiting actual players, players they know they will get and can begin to rely on, not kids barely removed from middle school. In the long run I don’t believe any one will truly benefit from early recruitment. Ryan will be bound by an allegiance to a school he may discover isn’t right for him and the University of Virginia may end up with an entirely different package than the one they ordered 3 years earlier.