November 19, 2012

Fall Looks Like Summer in Modern Recruiting World

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

More than 100 NCAA men's lacrosse programs were represented at a recruiting event Friday night at PPL Park outside Philadelphia.
© Kevin P. Tucker

* Related: Hill Academy Shows Off Canadian Pipeline on Trip South

CHESTER, Pa.
— PPL Park was fully operational Friday night. The lights were on, the big screen was going, and custom music blared from the speakers — just in case you couldn't figure out where the club team Laxachusetts hails from, the Dropkick Murphy's "Shipping up to Boston" provided a clue each time they scored.

But it was the crowds gathered on each sideline during the Philly Charity Showcase in below-freezing weather that truly revealed the importance of the event. On one side stood some of the best uncommitted high school players on top club teams and scholastic programs from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio and Canada.

And on the other side, bundled up in team-licensed winter gear sitting on folding chairs, or huddled for warmth under heat lamps, stood representatives from more than 100 NCAA men's lacrosse programs. Dozens more coaches braved the cold and sat in the stands away from the sideline and its portable heat during the event, organized and run by NXTsports.

These mass gatherings of recruiters have been a frequent sight during the past few months. As the days get shorter, so too do the number chances for uncommitted players to show off their skills. From late-bloomers and injury-recovering seniors to freshman and sophomores eager to show college coaches something for the first time, the fall season is an essential part of the college recruiting process.

"It's become just as important as the summer," said Denver coach Bill Tierney.

That was clear as coaches from far flung Division I programs like Denver, Marquette and Michigan, to regional players like Hofstra and Cornell to local Division III teams like Arcadia, which will play its inaugural Division III season this spring, were present.

And with players from eight elite clubs, and two of the best Philadelphia-area high school programs, there was plenty of talent to be evaluated.

Fall recruiting has "become just as important as the summer," Denver coach Bill Tierney said.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Division I teams have finished their senior recruiting, and many have even locked up their incoming juniors, so for them, this was a showcase for underclassmen. For uncommitted seniors, the event provided a final opportunity to be noticed.

"For Division III guys this is their last chance at seniors," Tierney said. "A lot of Division I coaches are here looking at the juniors, but some are done and we're sitting here staring at sophomores. It depends where you're at. But the fall is good because you get to see them all in one setting."

The next day around 400 players faced off on all-star teams at Episcopal Academy in suburban Philadelphia. These games marked the beginning of a long weekend that will have high schoolers scrambling to get one more chance at exposure before Thanksgiving. Players present at PPL Park spoke of events planned for Tuesday in both Long Island and Connecticut.

As important as the fall has become, even players with NCAA aspirations aren't always aware of it. Chris Brady, a high school sophomore playing for the Irish Road Lacrosse Club (Pa.), impressed on Friday, and was named Phillylacrosse.com MVP of the 2015 Easton Fab 40 game on Saturday, but even he didn't know about the season's importance relatively recently.

"I had no idea," Brady said. "I didn't know what this was until eighth grade. It's pretty cool and I'm living it."

In the years since, the fall slate has become an essential part of the year for Brady and hundreds of other future college lacrosse stars.

These events are unique to the lacrosse world because, unlike lax's Under Armour All-American games or basketball's McDonald's All-American game, it comes before the season. Few other sports can claim an occasion when an impression can be made on so many coaches, in person, at one time.

It's a potentially daunting proposition for a player.

"I play like I'm playing in practice," Brady said. "I just have fun. Coming into a game it's more important to be ready psychologically. I tune them out."

For a player like Brady, who in the spring suits up for defending Pennsylvania state champion Conestoga High School, the exposure would likely come anyway, but the fall remains a time when reputations are made.

US Lacrosse Statement on Recruiting

Last month, US Lacrosse issued a statement expressing concern over the the complex nature of collegiate recruiting process for high school student-athletes ... [Read More]

"Obviously playing for a team like Episcopal or Conestoga or Haverford helps because coaches know who you are," Brady said. "But playing on a club team in the summer or the fall, that's how you get noticed."

And these tournaments offer guaranteed exposure for teams in less traditional recruiting areas like Ohio's Titanium Lacrosse or Canada's Hill Academy, which is coached by Brodie Merrill. Merrill brought down uncommitted players from all three of the Hill's squads.

"It's rare that they get this kind of opportunity," Merrill said. "Especially up in Canada, it's tough to get those recruiting looks. Hopefully they'll get some opportunities through this."

That these opportunities exist is evidence of the evolution of lacrosse into a year-round sport.

"You can't really take a break at all," Brady said. "You have to stay in shape. Obviously you're going to be in your best shape during the season, but you have to keep your stick right. You've gotta be hitting the wall."

The importance will continue to grow and the coaches will continue to come, regardless of how long the trip takes.

"As much as the sport is growing, the major recruiting events are still out East," Tierney said. "So we spend a lot of time out here. We still have big events by us, just not as many. Out here you can take a weekend and see a bunch of different events."

All proceeds of Friday's event went to the HelpHOPELive, a nonprofit which raises funds to help families deal with the costs associated with transplant or catastrophic injuries, in honor of Logan Schweiter, a local 13-year-old, and rising Conestoga Youth Lacrosse player, who is recovering from a major brain injury suffered last July.


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