December 10, 2012

Freshman's Commitment Again Puts Focus on Early Recruiting

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Forry Smith, a 6-foot-2 and 175-pound attackman, verbally committed to Johns Hopkins in November after being noticed this fall playing for Duke's Lacrosse Club.
© Duke's Lacrosse Club

Haverford School (Pa.) boys' lacrosse coach John Nostrant knows what it feels like to be a parent going through the recruiting process. During an interview centered on the hot-button topic of early recruiting and the verbal commitment of a Haverford freshman to Johns Hopkins, Nostrant brought up the fact that his daughter, a 16-year-old junior, just made a verbal commitment the night before to play women's lacrosse at High Point in North Carolina.

"It's early for her to commit," Nostrant said, "but you get all caught up in it and you don't want to lose an opportunity. It is what it is. Parents are forced to do what they're able to do because of how the process works."

The process now has led a player who has never played a high school game to make a commitment to play for one of the most storied NCAA Division I men's lacrosse programs in the country.

His name is Forry Smith. He's big for his age — 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds — and according to two coaches who know him well, he's a solid attackman with all-around skills, ability with both hands. He's mature for his age, they say.

In November, Smith became the first freshman on record to make a verbal commitment to a Division I men's program. Conestoga (Pa.) long-stick midfielder/defenseman Jack Reilly became the second, committing to Virginia. They likely won't be the last.

"Unequivocally I believe that my freshman class is the best freshman class in the country," said Nostrant, who led the national power Fords to a year-end No. 6 ranking in Lacrosse Magazine's 2012 poll. "Forry is the first. If things fall into place, there will be six more [making verbals] before Feb. 1."

Smith has yet to play a game at Haverford. He was noticed on the club circuit, where he's played for Duke's Lacrosse Club, Mesa Fresh and Nostrant's Philadelphia Fever program. He first gained notice as an eighth-grader playing for Duke's but grabbed more attention in November at a trio of events in Maryland: the Terrapin Classic, Cottle Classic and Greene Turtle Invitational.

Smith's family approached Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala in the fall and explained Forry's desire to attend the Baltimore school.

"They got in contact with Petro," Nostrant said. "It's not like Petro was texting me to get Forry's number or anything like that. The contact was initiated by the family. He just happened to play well, and he's a very good lacrosse player. It worked out well."

Smith wants to be a doctor, and Johns Hopkins' medical school is world-renowned.

"I had the goal, ever since I started playing lacrosse, of playing at Johns Hopkins," Smith said at a Duke's recruiting seminar earlier this month, according to PhillyLacrosse.com, shortly after his commitment was made public. "This decision allows me to refine my goals and helps magnify what's still to come."

Smith's parents declined Lacrosse Magazine's request to interview their son.

"Forry is unique as a young player in that he is very mature, very focused, and very goal-oriented," Duke's coach Ebe Helm said. "Since age 9 or 10, he has had his bedroom walls painted in Johns Hopkins Blue Jay blue."

Nonetheless, Smith's decision has deepened the discussion of early recruiting. Even Pietramala has raised concern about its current state, with top Division I programs targeting highly regarded recruits who have multiple years of high school lacrosse left, but his Blue Jay program still became the first to make a verbal commitment with a high school freshman.

"Something needs to change. And I will tell you we are as big a culprit of it as anybody," Pietramala told LaxMagazine.com in September. "In order to remain relevant and successful at the elite level of Division I lacrosse, we've had to do the things we need to do to be successful and get those players. But at some point, we need to step back and say this is not what's best for these kids. This is not what's best for our program, deciding what a ninth or 10th-grader is going to be like seven or eight years from now when he's a senior in college."

"Until the process changes, families and kids are going to have to put themselves out there and do what they have to do to get recruited," Haverford School (Pa.) coach John Nostrant said.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Early recruiting was one of the topics of discussion at the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association's annual meetings over the weekend in Baltimore. Coaches discussed putting an IMLCA-imposed policy in place that would ban contacting recruits until July 1 after their sophomore year. Another suggestion was to agree not to attend weekday recruiting events from Sept. 1-May 1. But no formal decisions were made, Pietramala said.

"We talked about [those things], but nothing is set in stone," Pietramala told LaxMagazine.com's Matt Forman on Monday. "There were no agreements. You come out of there and say, 'What do we do?' It's status quo. We all know that we'd like to change it. We're all going to work toward doing that. It's not quite as simple as everybody might think."

Pietramala, also a Team USA assistant coach, felt pangs of guilt after the Smith commitment, according to Nostrant.

"I've known Dave for a long, long time," Nostrant said. "He called me and said, 'I hope you're not upset.' I said 'Hey, I'm not upset at all.' Until the process changes, families and kids are going to have to put themselves out there and do what they have to do to get recruited."

"Would I like to see it change?" Nostrant added. "Yeah, I would love to see it change."

Nostrant said the right-handed Smith has "a chance to play varsity this year." He said as many as six or seven freshmen could find their way on to the team. He also said he has some seniors who "haven't found a home," having yet to decide on colleges. Shortly after Smith's commitment, Haverford senior midfielder Timmy Brooks became Richmond's first Division I recruit under new coach and former Loyola assistant Dan Chemotti.

For this reason, Nostrant wishes more college programs would leave spots open for players who are still developing in their senior years.

"What I'd like to see these guys do is save some spots," Nostrant said. "Most of these schools should still be recruiting 2013s. Because there are some kids out there who can flat out play, and they don't have a home, because there are no spots left and there's no [scholarship] money left."

It's a point that Cornell fifth-year senior Rob Pannell, who was lightly recruited out of Smithtown West (N.Y.) on Long Island, vouched for as well. He originally verbally committed to Towson, then changed his mind to Quinnipiac before deciding to attend Deerfield Academy for a post-grad year to raise his stock. After all that, he landed at Cornell.

"I want to be a lesson for the future of lacrosse, for kids and for coaches," Pannell, a 2011 Tewaaraton Award finalist, said this summer. "For kids to work hard, and for coaches to know there are kids out there who mature later. There could be another Rob Pannell out there that goes under-the-radar. I want there to be a spot left in every coach's recruiting class called 'The Rob Pannell' spot."

As for Smith, Nostrant said, "He's a good kid. He'll handle it well. If he works as hard as I think he'll work, he won't have any problem playing at the next level and I'm sure he'll do good things here for the next four years.

"I'm happy for Forry," he said. "That's where he's always wanted to go. Fortunately, he's mature, a little bit ahead of his years. It's a place where he's always said he wanted to go. Otherwise, I would have told him to take his time and visit some schools. But as I joke around, I have a son who is an eighth-grader at Haverford and he's a 2017er. If [Virginia coach] Dom [Starsia] calls me next year in November and offers him on the spot, I'll take it. Until something changes..."


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